Children play street hockey in Vancouver

ice Hockey : Ice cold love

If you want to learn something about the relationship between Canadians and winter sports, all you have to do is pick up one of their five dollar bills. The reverse shows an ensemble of idyllic winter sports scenes: children go sledges, skate with an adult, play ice hockey. If you look closely, you will discover on the left under a large ice crystal an excerpt from the short story by the author Roch Carrier entitled "The Hockey Sweater". It was published 30 years ago and is now standard reading in Canadian schools. “The winters of my childhood were very long seasons,” it says. "We lived in three places: at school, in church and on the ice rink - and real life was on the ice rink."

That this assessment is still true for many Canadians today can now be observed across the country, which has been blessed with an early, long winter. Ice hockey in particular, just known by Canadians as hockey, is deeply anchored in the country's culture. What this means can currently be seen in every park and ice rink between Halifax and Vancouver, of which there are thousands in the second largest country in the world. "It's like in Germany with football - every child who grows up here gets ice skates, an ice hockey stick and a puck in their hands very early," said the German hockey professional Christoph Schubert in an interview with the Tagesspiegel some time ago in Canada. Schubert, who recently joined the Atlanta Thrashers, was a star of the Ottawa Senators from 2005 to 2009 and was loved by fans primarily for his tough, physical style.

If you want to trace the Canadians' enthusiasm for winter sports, you can do so in a small stadium on Eglinton Avenue in the northeast of the metropolis of Toronto, for example. This is where the House League teams, youthful recreational players who are united in the North Toronto Hockey Association, meet every Saturday. “I just like to skate very fast,” explains elementary school student Nolan as he puts on his equipment and helmet in the stadium's locker room. He did his first laps on the ice at the age of four and has been passionate about it ever since. Like his school friend Andrew, who is putting on goalkeeping equipment and who has been playing weekend after weekend with the junior team of the “ZED Financial Flyers” for five years, named after a local sponsor. What drives the two of them is the joy of darting over the ice and measuring their strengths - but compared to the professional players of the NHL, the two boys and their teammates seem remarkably peace-loving. It is true that even in the Canadian amateur leagues it happens again and again that players attack each other with their fists, partly driven by overly ambitious parents who want to turn their children into multi-million dollar professionals one day. But when Andrew and Nolan dart across the ice with their teammate, there is still no sign of this doggedness.

Canada's winters are often five to six months of snow and ice, so many parents buy their children early on with beginner equipment that costs less than 100 euros. In view of the omnipresent ice rinks, joining a hockey team is a matter of course for many children, explains Jim Leet, whose son and daughter both also play in youth teams. While he is sitting in the stadium, his gaze goes back and forth from the children's game on the ice to his Blackberry, which he uses to watch the current professional league games.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are at least 11,000 open-air ice rinks in Canada, plus more than 2,600 covered stadiums. In Germany there are just 49 open-air ice hockey stadiums registered, plus 164 covered stadiums - and that with a population ratio of more than 80 million in Germany compared to a good 30 million in Canada. The number of officially registered ice hockey players in Canada is given as half a million - twenty times more than in densely populated Germany. And compared to the USA, the number of registered players in the northern neighbor is still ten times higher. No wonder that the social scientist Patricia Hughes-Fuller, who examined the cultural significance of ice hockey in Canada, speaks of a “national obsession”.

Anyone in Canada who asks why ice hockey is the dominant sport here, especially from older Canadians, repeatedly hears nostalgic stories from their own youth, in which the clear, cold winter days and the hockey game in the park around the corner are a central, happy childhood memory . For Northop Frye, one of the most influential Canadian literary and social scientists of the 20th century, ice hockey symbolized the "idyllic myth" with which modern Canadians also express their longing for an ideal world. For Frye, the love of ice hockey, which has been played in Canada for centuries and, according to some traditions, was already popular with the indigenous people, stands for natural idyll, pioneering community, small-town security and the roots in the country that their own ancestors often suffered from great privation have appropriated.

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