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.
Take a listen to this part of our conversation with Jim Morell, leader in New Brunswick sport for more than four decades. We talked about how hockey careers, big and small, begin and return to the pond. We also discussed how an alternative approach to coaching can improve a kid’s sporting experience.
To read more about who Jim Morell is and what he’s done, click here.
What was the best game of shinny that you’ve ever played? Was it on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere? Was it under a bridge on the Rideau Canal? What made it so good? Did you score the winning goal? Did your opponent fall through the ice? Did you fall in love (with hockey)?
Since we’ve been sharing our outdoor hockey experiences with you for a whole month now, we want to open things up a bit and hear about your best outdoor hockey games.
Entries can be of any length, but at least 150 words would allow you get some description down and communicate the awesomeness. Points will be awarded for poetic descriptions of scenery and lack of hockey cliché (nothing that would make Don Cherry cry, please).
We also accept fiction entries! For that category, humour will be the primary criterion.
The winner(s) will be featured here on the blog and each will receive an OUTDOOR HOCKEY ULTIMATE PRIZE PACK. You’ve got ten days! Entries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, February 10th at NOON (Ryan says noon is a serious deadline time so we’re going with that).
The way that people interact with each other on the outdoor rink is pretty interesting. Unlike most of our social situations, outdoor rinks are places of self-organized play: no bosses, no defined roles, no time limits. Outdoor rinks are experiments in communication and cooperation.
We spoke to UNB sports sociologist and historian Fred Mason to hear his perspective on how outdoor rinks are sociologically significant places. This podcast is part one of our tour of Fredericton’s outdoor rinks, in conversation with Dr. Mason en route. LISTEN UP!!!!!
You may have heard the podcast we produced last week where we handed out first and worst stars to some of the people we had been playing with in Montreal. Having received very positive feedback (from Mark’s father), we decided to formalize and codify the precepts of outdoor hockey etiquette.
Now you might interject, “there can be no rules for outdoor hockey! It is precisely its unregulated nature that makes it so wonderful!” Yes, you are right. But we feel that, like any unregulated activity, there are certain conventions that must be appreciated in order for everyone to get along and perform at their best.
Having traversed the frozen land and seen what is Good and what is Not Good, we bring you this wisdom! Behold, the Ten Commandments of Outdoor Hockey:
I. Thou shalt shovel
II. Thou shalt not raise a puck against thy neighbour
III. When there are many, thou shalt share the ice fairly and in equal amounts of time
IV. Thou shalt divideth all the peoples unto two squads and those squads shall be equal in strength
V. Though shalt pass and let pass to your neighbour’s son or daughter
VI. Thou shalt not mixeth thy stick with the snowbank when another doth mixeth theirs
VII. Thou shalt not swing thy stick in the air like a lunatic
VIII. Thou shalt not worship thine own skills
IX. After the flood, thou shalt wait for the waters to turn to stone before you walk upon them with your blades
X. Thou shalt love those who cast the water upon the earth and bring life to the world of hockey