Last night, Facebook had a little glitch in their system that resulted in me being invited to comment on the hockey draft. My family has had their bit of fun with that. I was reminded of this essay I wrote a few years ago and found again a few weeks ago.
Why I Hate Hockey
Hate is such a deep word, though I regretfully confess that—when we get right down to it—it’s the only appropriate choice. While everything has, or is subject to, multiple aspects and facets and perspectives, there will always be one aspect or facet or perspective which is bigger and louder than the others. It’s because of this that I say, “I hate hockey.”
However, the term hockey is too vague for such a declaration. There are too many different people playing hockey for me to see it as all one game. There’s the general, overall, umbrella term hockey (let’s call it “small h hockey”) which defines the game where one laces on some skates and tries to get the puck into the other guy’s net; there’s the “wanna play hockey?” variety, where a bunch of people get together informally, everyone splits into even teams, they whack some pucks into a net, and then they go to Timmy’s for hot chocolate; there’s also the lots-of-rules, highly competitive, we’re-no-longer-human-we-are-awesome-machines game of hockey.
My only problem with “small h hockey” is that I don’t get it. Just as some people don’t see the purpose to tying knots in a long piece of string until you end up with a sweater, or spending an hour deliberating the placement of a comma, I don’t see the purpose to zooping around a cold arena trying to put the puck into the net. (And your reward for putting the puck in the net lots of times is another chance to zoop around a cold arena and put the puck into the net again?) I’m female–not a hair/make-up/fancy clothes girly-girl, but the type that likes stereotypically-feminine things. I like to read and write; I like to make small things with my hands; I like to listen to people talk. If one were to look at me through a primal lens, I would definitely be the woman out tending the fields and small animals, and humming quietly while I rocked my baby in front of the fire at night. Loud noises and fast movements disconcert me; there’s no appeal to the smell of sweat and testosterone. When I watch hockey, I’m reminded of the skills required for a successful hunt; if my tribe depended on me for meat, they’d be pretty damned skinny. But at least with a hunt I’d have motive: hunger would spur me on, and the pleasure of satiation would give me reason to do it again. Hockey doesn’t seem to have any purpose, so if someone desperately wants to beat me to the puck, I’ll gladly let him get there first. I have no interest in the race–neither the competition nor the speed. Hockey is too fast for me: I don’t think or move very quickly, so I haven’t the instinct to–while sliding around the ice on thin blades of steel—turn around, move a wooden stick behind a splodge of rubber and use said stick to wing said rubber splodge into a net, all within a split second. If the game could pause, and I could have time to consider where to place the stick and where to aim the rubber splodge, I might be more inclined to attempt a game. But that’s not the way hockey goes. Hockey is a think fast/move fast game. There’s no time for leisurely contemplation. Snap judgments are the mainframe. So “small h hockey” can’t really be included in the hate category, but I think I’d honestly prefer to do… I don’t know what would be the lesser of two evils… a complex calculus problem.
My father likes hockey. While I was growing up, he wasn’t obsessive about it, but it was something he could always talk about for quite a while when in the company of other hockey fans. As an infant, I was perched on his lap and taught to cheer whenever Frank Mahovlich made a goal. I don’t remember when we stopped watching hockey together; the activity was probably phased out as his other three children arrived and he no longer had leisure to sit in front of a television. Regardless, I still hold Frank Mahovlich dear: the coffee mug bearing his black-and-white image is washed reverently whenever I visit my parents’ house. Frank Mahovlich is an aspect of hockey which I don’t hate. I suppose this is where my respect for the “wanna play hockey” type of hockey comes in; sure, it was more of a “wanna watch hockey”, but it always had that faint undertone of familiarity and reverence.
I also spent my formative years in a small town where hockey possessed the male of the species all winter long. The free skating times at the arena were always contaminated by large, moving bundles of hockey equipment that “needed to practice for the next day’s game”; the bundles of hockey equipment were annoying but nothing more. We also skated on the river, and the girls in their white skates would be forcibly removed from the park by boys armed with their sporty weapons. More effort was probably expended on the cultural battle than the actual game of hockey, but if I were ever to give my seal of approval to a variety of hockey, this would be the one I’d choose. Those guys were obsessive and determined and masculine, but the game was what gave them the thrill. It didn’t matter if you were male or female, five years old or twenty-five years old, as long as you could fill out the team, you were in. Even if you were still too small to stand confidently on skates, someone would come around behind you, scoop you over to the net, and prop you up so you could shoot. (I use the pronoun you in the impersonal sense; I watched these scenes with well-disguised admiration, but I was never once on the river with the hockey players. And, yet, this variety of “wanna play hockey” doesn’t stir up any strong feelings which resemble hatred… despite wanting to find Bryan Greer and punch him for all the times he interrupted the World’s Best Figure-8 Performances.)
It’s only been in adulthood that I have identified what I truly hate about hockey: unnecessary rules that have absolutely nothing to do with the game. Girls must play on girls’ teams, regardless of size, weight, ability, etc; boys must play on boys’ teams, regardless of size, weight, ability, etc; talented players go on one team and “lamers” go on another team, and the other guys just don’t get picked for a team at all. Fourteen-year olds play in one league but thirteen-year olds play in the league below them, even if the thirteen-year olds are better hockey players. Small children are told to “suck it up” when they whine about being tired at a 5 a.m. hockey practice. Older children are punished, physically and emotionally, by adults who want them to play the game perfectly; adults behave like deranged animals because “someone else” was responsible for their child not playing the game perfectly. People are ostracized from the game if they look different from the other players, or if they’re attracted to their own gender–or if they don’t have a gender, or if they’re not willing to hurt someone to get a goal. Coaches are relieved of their duties if they take their team off the ice so they’re not subjected to cultural slurs that incite hatred.
These rules have nothing to do with the game; they don’t make the game better or more fun. These rules bring in money. These rules give ersatz power to people who desperately want it. These rules make people into Good Hockey Players, but don’t let them be anything else. This is where the term hatred is applied, and I’ve applied it with Krazy Glue. This is the part of hockey that overpowers all the other parts, and I will never, ever learn to accept this part.
So, I guess I’ll have to re-entitle this essay: The Aspects of Hockey which Flabbergast Me, the Aspects of which I’m Somewhat Fond, and the Aspect which I Well-and-Truly Despise. There’s no neat little nutshell for me to put this into, just as there’s no nutshell for anything else which has come to command the lives of a nation for six months of the year. When I vociferously claim “I hate hockey”, it’s due to my respect for human beings rather than my distaste for the game itself. It’s the extremes that I hate: the need to be The Best, the need to have The Most, and the insistence on leaving all the rest behind.
The game wouldn’t even exist without humans, and the Good Hockey Players are still–regardless of statistics and income–nothing more than humans. They can’t be known as such until they’re juxtaposed with the Bad Hockey Players, and no one can become a Bad Hockey Player until they’ve stood on wobbly legs on a frozen river, depending on some adolescent in a bright red #27 shirt to show you how to do this marvelous thing he does.