Accommodation is as much a part of the Canadian fabric as, well, hockey. But when a 17-year-old Orthodox Jew asked for a walk-on tryout with the top junior hockey team in Canada, the Quebec Remparts, he put the spirit of accommodation to an extraordinary test. Benjamin Rubin said that, if he made the team, he would not play on the Jewish Sabbath, Friday night to sundown Saturday. He would have to miss roughly half the games.
The decision on his request was to be made by the team's coach, general manager and owner, a onetime goalie named Patrick Roy. Not just any goalie, really. The goalie with the most career wins in the National Hockey League. Maybe the bestever to play in the NHL.
Mr. Roy, who won two Stanley Cups in Montreal and two more in Colorado, was known for his stubborn pride as a player. One night, when Montreal's coach embarrassed him by leaving him in net during a shellacking, he told team president Ronald Corey, "It's my last game in Montreal." And it was. Here was a man unafraid of public disapproval.
Benjamin Rubin made the Remparts. Mr. Roy liked the young man's wrist shot and skating ability. He was prepared to accommodate Benjamin's religious faith, despite the difficulties it poses for his team. "It's fun to see someone who knows what he wants," he told CBC Radio. "I'm not going to go against this."
Mr. Roy is going against somethingelse -- a strain in Quebec's hockey culture, and Canada's as a whole, in which the game is elevated to the status of a religion or way of life. Junior hockey tends to be a meat grinder, with young men often playing far from home and subject to being traded to even more distant cities as if they were professionals. Only a tiny fraction will make it to the NHL. Mr. Roy is nooutsider -- he's a native of Quebec City -- but he stood apart. He recognized the wholeness of the young men under his charge. Passionate as he is about hockey, he has sent a message that hockey is not life.
It would have been easy to turn away Benjamin, whose hockey progress had stalled because of his religious observance. This was not a situation like that of major-league pitcher Sandy Koufax in 1965, or outfielder Shawn Green two years ago, refusing to play a crucial game on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Those involved one game; Benjamin's request requires half a season. There may be some precedent for that large an accommodation of religious faith in high-level athletics, but we are not aware of it.
Last year was Mr. Roy's first with the junior team, and the Remparts won the Memorial Cup, the symbol of junior hockey supremacy. As much as anyone, he lives and breathes the game, and he knows how to win. His surprising and admirable accommodation of a Jewish teenager's religious faith shows that he also has a subtle grasp of the game of life.