Five to six weeks ago the biggest concern for the world of hockey with respect to Covid-19 was a hockey stick shortage. Multiple outlets reported the story as a problem in China that would only affect the “world’s top players” because CCM and Bauer’s Chinese manufacturing plants had been shut down indefinitely. Jack Eichel, who reportedly goes through 100 sticks a season, told The Canadian Press, “We’ll see how long it lasts. Hopefully not too long.” Tyler Seguin figured he “might be screwed for a little bit,” because he uses a new stick every game. And, Jason Spezza figured all would be okay as long as the “production drought” didn’t last longer than three or four months. On February 13th, the CEO of Bauer figured that Chinese production would likely re-start on February 17th. Fast forward to March 25th, when Bauer announced it would suspend its regular production activities to help produce protective face shields for the medical community working to fight the global pandemic. How naive we were.
If hindsight offers us 20/20 vision, it is abundantly clear that when Covid-19 was affecting Chinese society at large we assumed that the Pacific and Atlantic oceans would be enough to shield us from our intimately globalized world. As I write this on March 26th, the following has happened to the world of hockey in the last six weeks:
- NHL season suspended indefinitely
- IIHF Women’s and Men’s World Championships cancelled
- Isobel Cup postponed
- Frozen Four cancelled
- USports championship cancelled
- CHL Memorial Cup cancelled
- All recreational leagues suspended
- Ice rinks either closed or converted into Covid-19 testing and treatment centres
- Two Ottawa Senators tested positive for Covid-19
And we were worried about sticks.
Last night, I flipped on my TiVo and watched my recording of the 2019 Clarkson Cup final between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montréal. Little did I know when I taped that game how symbolic it would become of a simpler time. One year ago, the conundrum in women’s hockey was how we would ever merge the non-profit CWHL with the for profit NWHL. I miss that problem. Spezza’s concern about not having sticks for four months has become moot because now it looks like China will be ready with sticks before we can head back to the rinks.
Covid-19 is an important lesson in the realities of globalization. “Their” problem over there is always “our” problem over here. Whether it is about waste, labour, pollution, disease, or the economy, we no longer live in a world where we are exempt from “their” problems. We were so ignorant in our understanding of the situation that, in The Globe and Mail’s piece about the stick shortage, the only mention of the disease itself were these three sentences:
Nearly 1,400 deaths in China have been attributed to the flu-like illness since it emerged in the central part of the country in December. Health officials confirmed 242 deaths on Thursday alone. That is twice as many as the previous day.
Covid-19 was merely subtext for the much larger concern of not enough sticks for NHL players. A representative for Bauer is even quoted as saying that had the production stoppage “happened in the summer, nobody would worry.” People were dying and we were worried about sticks. We were talking about a production stoppage when we should have been talking about an epidemic. If sport is supposed to teach positive character then maybe Covid-19 is the re-set button we needed because we have more than lost sight of the big picture along the way.
I’m not saying that any one person should have known better at the time (although, health care practitioners have been begging us to take this seriously for awhile). My dad told me to stock up on groceries in mid-February and I begrudgingly went to Costco and bought two frozen lasagnas. Then I ate them, and had to panic buy 2 more lasagnas when shit got real. I didn’t get it either because long line-ups for food and product shortages are supposed to be what happens to people living “over there,” or they happened to our grandparents. When classes were being moved online at Stanford and Harvard, I thought, “That would be a nice change of pace.” For some stupid reason, I didn’t really think that remote online learning would be connected to the cancellation of my own hockey. I would like to take that thought back, but there is no Control/Command Z for this situation. If we are to learn from our mistakes, then the next time an equipment shortage seems like it might be a problem, we should probably treat it like a canary in a coal mine because it’s probably not actually about sticks.