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(BRIAN BAHR/Getty Images)
(BRIAN BAHR/Getty Images)

Stephen Smith

The secret to Olympic hockey gold Add to ...

Science has made huge strides when it comes to hockey, and you know what else? Inroads. From Malcolm Gladwell, we've learned that, if Sidney Crosby wanted to be really great, he should have been born in January, not August. Bob Sirois has demonstrated the NHL's allergy to Quebeckers. And many people not named Don Cherry have made what can only be called headway in the area of concussions.

Science has had no luck in isolating the genome that explains what makes Bobbys so crucial in the hockey context. Genome? I may mean isotope. Either way, until someone cracks the code, we'll go with good old Canadian guesswork.

You have to have one. In 1920, the Falcons had Bobby Benson - no star, I don't think, but he did purvey a certain key, well, Bobbyality. You know what I'm talking about. It's as much a condition of mind as a set of skills, a willingness to block shots and lose teeth, play hurt, or swing your stick like a mad woodchopper in case the national interest might be served by someone's ankle being broken.

I know what you're thinking and, yes, true enough: The '24 Granites had no Bobby. They still won. What about all our great women's teams? Mainly Bobbyless. Here's the thing: Our Bobbys aren't always named Bobby. Ryan Smyth, for instance, is pure Bobby, other than his name. Hooley Smith, Seth Martin. Hayley Wickenheiser - I hope she won't mind me saying - is what the Spanish would call Bobbyissima.

My best guess? There are reasons we husband our Bobbys so carefully. Overt Bobbys (a) are more easily neutralized, and (b) what's to keep Norwegians from filching our Bobbyness and applying it to every young Ole-Kristian?

This year? Wish I could divulge who we have for Bobbys. Sorry. Let's just say I'm not worried.

Which is more than I can say about our leaf.


The Falcons wore sweaters the colour of queasy mustard. Since then, Canada has worn white to the Olympics, and also red. In 1948, the sweaters turned air-force blue. To sum up: Colours don't matter.

It's the maple leaf on the sweater that's vital. It symbolizes our strength, our beauty, our syrup. The beaver has its place, too, symbolically, except that the male of the species has been dogged since ancient times by the disturbing legend? rumour? fact? that, when pursued, he'll sometimes chew off his testicles and leave them for his pursuer.

Maple leaves don't do this, and neither does hockey. That's one of the things we love about the game: Hockey, when pursued, retains its testicles.

But. The leaf. The Falcons had one of the best, 49 points, lean and spiky, a bit of an austerity leaf, I guess, with the Great War just over.

In 1972, our leaf was so big and arrogant it didn't fit the sweater, and Paul Henderson looked like Nature had him halfway down its maw. To scare the Soviets? In 1976, another mega-leaf, though sliced in half, perhaps in memory of all those national leaves shredded by lawn mowers.

In 1996, a man appeared within the leaf, bisecting halves of red and black, probably to represent the hockey blood we shed and our bad moods, respectively.

Which gets us to Vancouver. It's late to be second-guessing Steve Yzerman, possibly even un-Canadian. Still, someone should speak up, and if not now, when? Looking back, the best leaves we've worn could have been free-handed by bright kids with crayons, and tongues sticking out to help them concentrate. This year's appears to have been rendered on a computer by government robots.

It's not awful, what's there. It's what isn't there that's the problem.

Let me ask you a question: How many Canadian teams have won gold wearing a maple leaf that lacked its petiole? Exactly right: none.

If it seems a small point, that's what it is. Little stalk-like bit at the bottom? Connects the leaf to its branch? The petiole.

Where is it? It looks - forgetful. It's insulting to botany. If a real leaf can't do without its petiole, why assume that a hockey team could? How do you think a leaf feeds itself? Shifts to catch sunlight? An actual leaf without its petiole - how would that work? It wouldn't.

Too late now to fix the sweaters. With no petiole to our leaf, it's a lot of added pressure on both our stealth Bobbys and our hockey prowess. What we should have done is routed the team through Halifax, where they could have booked priority passage aboard, say, HMCS Charlottetown, asserting some quick sovereignty as they powered through the Northwest Passage, B.C.-ward, to glory. That probably would have been our best approach.

Stephen Smith is author of the soon-to-be published Puckstruck, about the culture of hockey.

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