Hockey championships and rites of spring

Although Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, does not seem to be aware of it, Canada’s University Cup tournament for men’s hockey – Canada’s national sport – is taking place this week.  In fact, it is being hosted at our home arena at the University of New Brunswick here in Fredericton.  Hockey playoffs and the miracle of remarkably unseasonable warm weather have been a pervasive focus for us this week, so much so that I am going to take a break from my themes of running and children’s stories to contemplate these threads.

The snow of the previous week melted at unprecedented speed this past week, thanks to sustained record-breaking temperatures.  Piles of snow, accumulated from a winter of plowing streets, driveways and parking lots, have disappeared.  This has resulted in lawns now completely bare of snow, giving the illusion that daffodils may appear at any moment.  The sidewalks and trails are now completely devoid of traces of winter, so I can shed my preoccupation with their condition.  The river has risen to flood stage weeks earlier than usual, causing high water in typical areas and a devastating flood from an ice jam in a lovely little town upriver.  Ducks are paddling in our temporarily underwater backyard.  Strange geological formations can be found on the outskirts of parking lots, the remnants of snow piles that have melted down to a winter’s worth of dirt with some stubborn ice deep in their core.  The hope of spring is in the air even as the temperatures retreat to the familiar chill of early spring.

It’s that time of year when university students complete their final assignments and start studying for finals.  Time for Canada’s 6 best men’s university hockey teams to gather to determine who is will be crowned #1 in Canadian university hockey.  The university where I taught for 30 years has a strong hockey program.  In fact, UNB was the 2011 champion and has won the Canadian championship 3 of the past 5 years.  Until the semi-final this evening we had high expectations of being in tomorrow night’s final.  Unfortunately, to paraphrase Casey at the Bat, there is no joy in Floodville, the mighty V-Reds have struck out.  But this disappointment shouldn’t detract from the celebration that good hockey deserves.  And our UNB V-Reds deserve to be celebrated; they provided a season’s worth of great entertainment to thousands of us.

Watching live competitive hockey is a different experience than watching on it on TV.  Until I retired in 2010, I could count on two pastimes to provide complete release from thinking about work: (1) golf, because I was always concentrating on how to get the next shot right; and (2) watching UNB hockey live, because it was so exciting and fast that I couldn’t possibly think about anything else while trying to keep up with the play and the puck. Watching good hockey live is exhausting!

In our neck of the woods, in the winter  hockey is popular at both indoor and outdoor rinks.   Our region holds more than one pond hockey tournament, including hosting the World Pond Hockey Tournament.  Once the outdoor ice surfaces are no longer viable, street hockey joins the mix.  And floor hockey can be found in gyms and basements year round.  Regardless of age, kids seem to know what to do with hockey sticks and a net!

What I like most about watching hockey:

  1. The amazing skating ability of the players
  2. The remarkable skill involved in good puck handling and well-executed plays
  3. The Timbits teams that play during the intermissions. They’re 5-6 years old and they can skate better than I can!
  4. The sports fans at our local rink, who are approximately 92% male, of all ages, all walks of life, and bring a great sense of comaraderie.
  5.  It’s the only place I know where there is a line-up outside the men’s rooms and no problem getting into a ladies room!

What I don’t like about watching hockey:

  1. Fighting
  2. Unnecessary penalties

Happily, we’re seen lots from the first list and not too much of the second during this tournament.  Despite the sorrow of watching our home team lose tonight, it’s been a treat of a week at the hockey rink.  Thank you, players.  Thank you, organizers.

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