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100 years of the NHL

November 10, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

November 26, 1917. Might not really mean much to some, but for others it’s a very special and important day. That day marks the 100th anniversary of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) formation.

When bringing up the idea of what it means to be a Canadian, or how you know you’re one, I believe hockey is one of the best answers. It is after all, our game. The United States has baseball, but we’ve got hockey.

Whether you like the sport or not, hockey is a big part of being Canadian. It’s a sport that has forged a nation together; after all, we have Tim Hortons, thanks to the same Maple Leafs player who founded it himself.

Before the NHL there were various leagues, almost all in Canada. Thanks to the very first indoor ice hockey game at Montreal’s skating rink on March 3, 1975, Canada, a country that gained confederation just eight years earlier, started off with finding its own identity.

What is it about hockey that people enjoy so much?

The lure of it, the speed of the game, the strategy, the history behind it, perhaps even some mystery involved. Most importantly, it is the stories through it, and when looking closer, it’s the social cultural, political side of it.

Hearing those countless tales of young boys playing on frozen ponds and lakes in the “great Canadian outdoors” or homemade ice rinks in their backyards, it never gets old.

Its obvious Canada is known for being cold, with almost never-ending winters dumping endless snow, but maybe that’s what people associate hockey with.

Hockey is, after all, a very rough sport, with career-ending injuries, while some have died (during the early days); a tough and enduring sport to play, like the winters we endure every year.

Of course, the NHL did propel hockey as a sport, which during the beginning was something not taken seriously. But as the times changed, so to did the sport.

The NHL has seen many teams founded and fold throughout its long history. Today there are 31 teams. Although only seven are Canadian teams, a majority of the players are Canadian. And when some of the best players come to mind, most are Canadian: Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Maurice Richard and Sydney Crosby.

Whether you read about, hear it, or watch it on TV, it is always enjoyable, from Foster Hewitt’s famous “he shoots, he scores,” to “hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland,” to Saturday Night Hockey, a night always celebrated and looked forward to by any hockey fan.

Hockey has been there during some of our country’s darkest and brightest moments. It was there during the World Wars, giving people an escape from hearing the atrocities going on overseas, keeping morale up.

During the Richard Riot, when ‘Rocket’ Richard was suspended for hitting a referee, and angry Montreal fans took to the streets, rioting and looting, the Rocket went on radio to help quell the riots. Some see it as the peak of French-Canada vs. English-Canada, revealing a country still divided, and the start of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

And of course, the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, during the cold war, east versus west. Anyone who watched the game, when the nation came together, will never forget where he or she was, and when Paul Henderson scored the game-winning goal.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a huge hockey fan, more specifically, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Yes, the Maple Leafs have had their highs and lows, and I’ve seen both. I remember when they blew a 4-1 lead in the 3rd period in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, being in utter tears when they were eliminated. I watched them in the last playoffs give the Washington Capitals a run for their money, loosing in a close six-game series.

When I was younger, my family only had one television with cable, then satellite, and one DVD player. Come Saturday night, they all wanted to watch something besides hockey. Usually, we can to an agreement, and by that I mean I’d watch either the first period or two then watch something else with my family.

Having basic satellite in the beginning meant only watching a select number of Leafs games, unlike today where I can watch all of them. But when I got a radio in my room, I would tune in to hear Joe Bowens “Holey Mackinaw!” picturing the game in my mind. It reminded me of a simpler time, during my parents’ time. And after every game, next day at school, some friends and I would talk about the game, or if other classmates liked rivals teams, we’d certainly go after each other.

The amount of stories with the NHL and hockey in general is endless. I have numerous books on it and every time I get a new one, I can’t put it down until I’m done.

For 100 years, the NHL, through its various ups and downs, has provided the individual, friends, families, communities, and a nation, with entertainment, unity, and identity. It has bridged generations and ages, from all backgrounds.

Hockey just has a certain feel to it that just can’t be described, and perhaps the best things are those indescribable. I’m certainly looking forward to the next 100 years.

         

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