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Prime Minister Stephen Harper coaches the Conservative hockey team during its game against the Liberals in Ottawa on April 15, 2008. (Bill Grimshaw)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper coaches the Conservative hockey team during its game against the Liberals in Ottawa on April 15, 2008. (Bill Grimshaw)

Ottawa Notebook

PM prefers NHL to Parliament Add to ...

Stephen Harper says he'd rather be playing hockey in the NHL than playing politics in the House of Commons.

"It's probably terrible to say but any Canadian boy, if he could play in the NHL, would play in the NHL," Mr. Harper said in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber.

In a piece setting up the Vancouver Olympics, Mr. Farber had asked Mr. Harper if, given a choice, he would rather be serving as prime minister or playing professional hockey.

A fan and student of the game (and of U.S. media interviews), Mr. Harper is writing - and has been for years now - a book on the history of hockey in Canada. Not surprisingly he had some interesting insights about it and how it complements the Canadian psyche.

"Hockey is a fast, aggressive, tough sport and that's an important part of the Canadian psychology and history," he said. "It's sometimes forgotten because Canadians are thought of as peace-loving and fair-minded and pleasant - which I think we are - but that's not inconsistent with tough and aggressive and ambitious, which I think is also part of the national character."

He also noted that he was recently "chatting" with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the game, noting that they come from the two coldest countries on Earth and "not by coincidence, the two best hockey countries."

Indeed, he reflected on the 1972 series between Canada and Russia, saying that his father told him it was "sort of like the experience of the Allies in the 1940s, feeling as soon as the shots were fired this thing would be over [but then]find we're scrambling out of Dunkirk. That was very similar."

"The Canada-Soviet series had an overarching reality of Cold War confrontation as well, which really nothing today can replicate," he told Mr. Farber.

The Olympic matches are different, he says, noting the pressure on the Canadian team will be "incredible."

"I can't offhand think of anything in any country where any team would be under such universal expectation of a gold and nothing less … practically from four years before the event. It's a big deal to all of us."

And he says that men's hockey does risk "dominating not just coverage but dominating Canadians' impressions of the Olympics."

This is unfortunate, Mr. Harper says, because since 1988, when Calgary played host to the Winter Games, Canada has grown into an Olympic power across all sports.

(Photo: The Prime Minister coaches the Tory team in a 2008 hockey game against the Liberals in Ottawa. Bill Grimshaw for The Globe and Mail)

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