Don’t speak, just deke
The focus of our trip has been on outdoor hockey strictly. Again and again, we’ve found ourselves explaining this to people and we have, on occasion, encountered scepticism about the possibility and validity of documenting only that particular version of the sport.
This scepticism is merited. Outdoor hockey is rarely documented and, when it is, it is usually done in a particular way that I will try to explain here.
The first thing to note is that games of indoor hockey are inherently easier to describe and recount because of the number of facts that cluster around such games: There are team rosters with names attached; There are demarcations in space (at the blueline, in the penalty box, on the bench); There are demarcations in time (before the game, at the start of the third period, two minutes into overtime).
Perhaps most importantly though, indoor hockey games promise conflict: between players, between teams, between players and referees, between players and coaches, between coaches and coaches, between players and fans, between fans and fans. The list really does go on until writing of the story about indoor hockey can simply be a matter of selecting some of these conflict narratives and then filling them out with facts.
Indoor hockey is also where the money is and so, for some people, it is where the focus necessarily remains.
In contrast, the outdoor rink offers less documentation, fewer distinct events and far less conflict. The game is inherently cooperative because more than not, the participants labour together to prepare or repair the ice. There’s rarely score keeping in outdoor hockey other than the ironic “next goal wins!” which is actually almost the negation of winning altogether. Nor are there usually true “witnesses” to the activity other than the players themselves.
You try to say something about a game of outdoor hockey and the power of the experience seems somehow diminished. There is little on which to hang your narrative, no buzzer-beating goals or overtime heroics to pull a listener or reader along. The game generates practically no evidence of its existence and, as we’ve learned while attempting to document these things, there’s actually a strange discomfort in trying to take photos of or interview people after a game of outdoor hockey.
This game is not for the spectator; it is for the person who was there. It was for the person who lived it. When we do try to speak about outdoor hockey, it sounds more like a myth than a story, more like a dream than an event. We see the outdoor rink as if through a winter’s haze. To read Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater is to be drawn into a kind of trance. The story itself has the flavour of a hypnotic ritual.
So outdoor hockey is more about structures and patterns than it is about events. Like the stratification of water on ice, our experiences on an outdoor rink accumulate over the days and weeks of many winters. By the end, we’re left with a powerful sense of activity, sound and motion—but we may be unable to describe a single event.
And when we look at the ice after we’ve played, there are only hints of the thing that happened. And then the ice is flooded and these marks disappear, too.