When you live in Plant Hardiness Zone 3B and extreme temperatures can drop to 35-below, what do you do in winter? I mean, provided you are not a plant?
Obviously, you strap a piece of metal on your kids’ feet and push them around a frozen piece of ice. The kids grow, and you hand them a stick and a helmet and wonder if a sport that prides itself on fighting and broken teeth is interested in protecting anyone’s brains. You become familiar with Wayne Gretzky and a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist, and a fight). You become a hockey mom, with a third row of seats in your vehicle and room for smelly hockey bags. And you spend thousands on gear, ice, and hotels. You give up summer weekends and all of winter for a sport that’s supposed to help you cope with living at a latitude of 40 degrees.
You learn to love it, you chase the dream, and you align your loyalty to your neighborhood rink, high school, college, and NHL teams.
Why not? Sports take the sharpest edges off more gloomy parts of life.
Stick and ball games have been around since ancient Egypt. Perhaps since there were humans, there were games. By the 14th century, British bandy was a sport similar to modern hockey. Ice, however, wasn’t introduced until the winter of 1608, when Scottish ships became trapped in the North Sea, and the River Thames froze. People went crazy. Without much else to do, they brought their games onto the ice. Bandy on ice, without skates. Skates came when British Royals brought them back from exile in 1660. Skates, sticks, balls, and ice made for glorious diversions.
The transition to a puck happened around the mid 1700s. Balls were replaced by ale barrel plugs, aka cork bungs. This switch gave us the term hockey, christening the sport of hockey instead of ice bandy. Hock ale was the name of the beer brewed at Hocktime, an English Easter festival, and ale barrels supplied bungs. Hock ale, or “hockey” (say it with a British accent) became the shortened name for the beloved bung sport.
So what about Canada? Anyone who knows anything about hockey knows that hockey is to Canada what air is to humans. On March 3, 1875, the first indoor hockey game was played in Montreal. Rules were applied, and some of them stick today. Roughly the same size ice (185 to 200 feet long and 85 to 100 feet wide) is still used, as are pucks. By 1880, annual championships occurred, and hockey, at times, became the most cutthroat (crude pun intended) competition of all. Lord Stanley, the British governor general of Canada, donated his famous championship trophy in 1893, and the rest is (mostly Canadian) history.
About 1900, the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company wasn't thriving at manufacturing cars and bikes, so it delved into skate-making with its leftover metal. CCM monopolized the market until Bauer, a shoemaker from Ontario, started making a boot with a permanent blade.
I could also offer a short synopsis about sticks, but I have a personal vendetta against them. They rob me of more money than any other piece of hockey equipment. At roughly $260 apiece, they are not economical. From wood to fiberglass to composite, and variable blade curves, the hockey stick is single-handedly a hockey parent’s worst nightmare.
Hockey moms are called pitbulls with lipstick. Getting everyone and their equipment to the rink after making sure they are fed, hydrated, and COVID-protected makes for a dodgeball sort of experience. Throw in hockey politics, spirited fans who have vitriol toward refs, coaches, other teams, and other kids on your kid’s team, and it makes navigating the sport rather difficult.
Perhaps it fits its environment that players play on frozen surfaces with weapon-sharp blades and avoid being tripped, slashed, checked, or fought in order to put a biscuit in a basket.
Yet I love watching my boys play; I love that precious time with them. We learn the lessons of a team, share friendships and carpooling, and become a hockey family. Sometimes, some seasons are simply too short.
As I wind down my dialogue, I give a nod to the five-overtime contest last Saturday involving the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and our University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. While bonding with my boys, another hockey mom, and my significant other (who is from Grand Forks and is a die-hard Fighting Hawks fan), I was struck by the wonderful diversion of hockey. It was a marathon where, in the midst of the excitement, I did my usual dozing, waking to a replay, and yet enjoying the game all the same.
We are hockey people; our kids are hockey people, and every day is a great day for hockey — according to Mario Lemieux.
Of course, all of us wish the UMD Bulldogs team, Coach Scott Sandlin, and his staff the very best in the Frozen Four.
Krisa Keute of Duluth is a hockey mom to Ian and Cole Christian, the mother of a college student Elle Christian, and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Additionally, she’s an “uncertain” fan of college hockey. “It’s complicated,” she said.