It seemed like a perfect opportunity for reflection.
The celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series had come to a warm and fuzzy end, followed fast by the ugly start of the 2012 NHL lockout – a story of striking contrast to ’72 in that it held no heroes, captivated no one but the captive media and had no running clock to force resolution.
It could not mean, however, that hockey had lost meaning in the country that claims it as the national game.
This, after all, is Canada, where less people know all the words to the national anthem than they do to Stompin’ Tom Connors’ The Hockey Song, where shinny is played on the back of the five dollar bill, where concert audiences have been known to roar in approval when Shania Twain covers her famous belly button with a baggy, formless local hockey jersey.
Globe and Mail editors suggested a “hockey project” that would look at the game from a vast number of different angles. It would not cover just the changes in the game since that famous Soviet-Canada series 40 years ago, though such changes are significant as anyone who watched those grainy flashbacks where shifts lasted forever, boards were white and goaltenders tried to stay on their feet.
No, such a series would look at minor hockey: its cost, its rewards, its changing face behind the masks.
It would look at one of the most phenomenal changes in the national game, the explosive growth of women’s hockey and the incredible pride Canada has taken in its gold-medal winning champions.
It would look at competitive hockey, at house-league hockey, at beer-league hockey, at outdoor shinny and even the effect of climate change – which, of course, is a myth devised by lazy parents – on the decline of backyard rinks.
It would examine the proliferation of hockey academies, where parents are willing to pay the price of a university education to have their high schoolers study breakouts as well as biology.
It would look at hockey in other countries: the rising power of the United States and the training methods of European hockey.
It would cover such pivotal events as the world junior hockey championship in Ufa, Russia, and the women’s world championship that will come to Ottawa in the spring.
It would look at junior hockey, the fantastic and the flawed, and at college hockey both in Canada and the United States.
It would debate bodychecking at the lower levels among players who will never play at elite levels.
It will continue, as The Globe and Mail has for some time now, to write about the effect of injuries and the growing fear of concussion.
It would look at hockey in such legendary hotbeds as Kirkland Lake, Ont., (last Saturday) and hockey in such secret hotbeds as the American Hockey League franchise in Hershey, Pa. (coming on Saturday).
This is no royal commission. There is as much to praise about the game as there is to worry about the game.
This isn’t about “whither hockey,” but “where is hockey.”
And how’s it doing, 40 years on?