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Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby shoots a puck into the net on the first day of NHL hockey training camp at their practice facility outside Pittsburgh. (JASON COHN/REUTERS)
Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby shoots a puck into the net on the first day of NHL hockey training camp at their practice facility outside Pittsburgh. (JASON COHN/REUTERS)

DAVID ADAMS RICHARDS

Hockey is back. Did it ever really go away? Add to ...

Hockey is back this weekend. Should that matter?

I told myself in the middle of last October I did not care any more. Our National Hockey League commissioner seems to know less about the game then 80 per cent of fourth graders. And the NHL lockout subjected us all to hockey as corporate enterprise, as moneyed expediency. At times, it had nothing to do with the sport I have loved since I was 5.

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About November, in fact, someone, clearly frustrated by all of this, had the idea of kidnapping our Stanley Cup: Have Stephen Harper – a Prime Minister who actually cares about the game – declare it a national treasure and create our own league.

It might bring the game back into perspective.

I remember telling Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean once that we become Canadian whenever we drop the puck. There was a commercial that said something the same during the recent World Junior Hockey Championship and the Spengler Cup tournament – that you would have to take our country away in order to take hockey from us. And even that wouldn’t stop us from fashioning some kind of stick and puck.

This is what my wife, son and I did in Spain years ago – taking slender pieces of driftwood to make sticks, and round balls of hardened seaweed as pucks, and playing on the patio in the afternoons under the palm trees, while curious children came to watch.

A Spanish woman saw us playing one day, and had someone from Switzerland send her a hockey stick with Team Canada written on it. When I think back, it was one of the kindest things ever done for us.

So we did not give up hockey even then. Or more to the point, especially then.

Even after the ugly and self-infatuated Vancouver Stanley Cup riot in 2011, when I told myself that I was done with hockey for good, I could not keep my promise.

It was the same during the NHL lockout.

In December, going for a walk along the river, I turned and watched to see if a youngster breaking around a defenceman was going to score in a pickup game in the winter dark.

I have, in fact, already watched more than 40 games this year. I have watched many St. Thomas University men’s games and all of the women’s. The women’s team at the little New Brunswick university – tiny really – is second in the Atlantic University hockey standings.

I suppose my heroes this fall have been slightly smaller in stature than Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby – with names like Katie Brewster, Erin MacIsaac, Amanda Burns, or, arguably the best player to ever play for the St. Thomas women’s team, 5-foot-1 Kayla Blackmore.

Because here’s an open secret, known by millions of Canadians: Hockey is hockey. When you see a move, dynamic and beautiful, graceful as ballet, it takes your breath away. It does not matter if the kid is a Crosby or a 14-year-old on a local rink. Hockey at its best embodies both the beauty and courage of our spirit. I believe it always will.

They told me last week that hockey was back. Most Canadians know it never went away.

Will I watch it again? In all the ways that count, I never stopped.

David Adams Richards is a writer based in Fredericton. His work includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays. His most recent book is Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul.

 

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