An ode to hockey heroes of all types in a shinny-mad nation

Peter Black
Local Journalism
Initiative Reporter

The boys were in the dressing room – the girls were in their room down the hall – swapping tales about Mike Bossy, whose untimely passing was fresh news. Someone asked, “I wonder how Guy is doing?”

Not too well, obviously, because the talk at the next game of our beer league group was about the death of Guy Lafleur, and almost everybody had a personal story, a reminiscence, or a souvenir. Some players wore sweaters – Remparts, Canadiens, Nordiques – in tribute to Le Démon Blond.

On the local supper hour television news the day Lafleur died, the producers opted to treat the demise of the former hockey star with something normally reserved for extraordinarily somber or shocking events: a solemn opening show theme instead of the usual mid-tempo, slightly urgent music.

As the producer of a current affairs radio program for many years, I was loath to go searching for an appropriately dirgey theme to open a show if something particularly bad happened in the news, on the unapologetically solid journalistic grounds that the world stops for no one and life, and the reporting of life, goes on.

The point here is not that Guy Lafleur’s death was not sad and untimely, his hockey career not extraordinary, his post-hockey life not remarkable and his national funeral not worthy.

Au contraire. What is amazing, objectively, is how Canadians, particularly Quebecers, elevate hockey players to such revered status. Not everyone is a hockey fan, but most people recognize how important sports stars are to help alleviate the daily grind of life.

Starting with poet Gaston Miron in 1996, only seven Quebecers, including Lafleur, have been accorded a national funeral, distinct from state funerals which are reserved for politicians.

They are a diverse group, from feminist broadcaster/ politician Lise Payette, to union boss Louis Laberge, to Céline Dion’s starmaker husband René Angélil. And, of course, Habs’ deities Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard were honoured with a Quebec national funeral.

Lafleur’s death coincided with the end of a particularly sad season for Les Glorieux –whodidmakeittotheCup final last year, so suck it up, Habs’ fans – and the beginning of the first “normal” National Hockey League playoffs since 2019.

For most beer/garage/ pick-up hockey league players out there, the pandemic roughed-up season has come to an end and it’s time to rest aging bodies and watch the supernaturally gifted and su- premely fit players of the sport who so inspire all, wage war. Is there anything remotely as demanding, or entertaining, in the pro sports world as the NHL playoffs?

Back to the lesser heroes, those who play hockey for the pleasure and challenge and thrill of the game. Born with no natural gifts nor ever having developed any skills, I am content to make playing pathetically look easy.

Our gang is what we call an opportunity league, although we’re not actually a league but an ever-evolving list of players who’ve been going at it weekly for 16 years. There are maybe five players from the original group still playing regularly.

The “opportunity” part means basically if you can skate reasonably well and you have a sincere desire to play the game with full equipment, slapshots and goalies, you’re in. If you’re a jerk and don’t treat less skilled players with respect and understanding, you’re out. That’s really never happened.

Our gang is a surprisingly organic microcosm (sounds like the smell of a hockey bag) of society. We have had players of all ages, skill levels, types of jobs and national backgrounds including Japan, Germany, Holland, England, Switzerland and the United States. We have had players from all provinces – no territories yet – as well as a core of home-grown Québécois.

We’ve had fathers playing with sons and daughters, brothers with brothers.
We’ve had a bunch of women warriors, including a spectacular goalie who was in the army, one of several players from the military who have joined us over the years.

This is our group. Multiply that by the thousands in this land alone. It helps to explain why a skinny, cocky, wickedly talented kid from a small papermill town becomes a hero and an inspiration to hockey players, fans or just regular human beings.

An ode to hockey heroes of all types in a shinny-mad nation was last modified: May 3rd, 2022 by QCT Editor

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