What does a perfect, white sheet of ice mean to you?
It means two things to me: victory and defeat.
In my early years, we were at the rink in the winter day in and day out. Figure skating was an obscure and disciplined world. It did not capture vast numbers of fans until later. The old National Hockey League consisted of six teams, from six great cities: Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, New York Detroit and Boston.
We knew other countries played hockey, but we also knew that we were nuts about the game in Canada. It was a common thread running through all of us, coast to coast. When the games were broadcast on the radio, people across the frozen north would huddle around and listen to the impassioned, unbridled enthusiasm of a famous broadcaster named Foster Hewit. During the second world war, soldiers were able to listen from the battlefield. It became a part of our emerging identity, this love of the game. Somewhere along the line, it became our game, as synonymous with Canada as the maple leaf itself.
We knew that Sweden and Russia were passionate about it too. We knew from the Winter Olympics. When it came to Figure Skating, we were up against great competitors who studied ballet and Figure Skating in tandem. Pairs like the Protopopovs were simply breath taking and unbeatable. They challenged us and tested us daily. As far as hockey was concerned, we could not send our best players to the Olympics as they played in the National Hockey League. Yet we had to know how we would match up. We wanted a true test. An effort began to arrange a series where our best could match with theirs. It was a long and complicated effort. When hearts softened and culture exchanges were made, including bringing the sublime Bolshoi ballet to Toronto, we got our big test at last.
At first, the Russians dominated and beat us soundly. Some said it would be a joke and our humiliation would be without end. The players, all stars in their own right, had not played together as a team. The Russian team work had years in the making. We rallied and tied the series. We were up to a do or die situation with the game tied up. I could feel the pressure, and the tension build to the breaking point. Children were let out of school to go home and watch the game. We were on the edge of our seats, on our knees, and even our dogs whimpered. We could not breathe. Along came a magic moment. Paul Henderson of the Toronto Maple Leafs got the puck and tapped it in the net. The whole nation of Canada roared!
Two men, driving trucks on and ice road stopped to listen to that moment. They were each heading in opposite directions. With the final moments so nerve wracking, they could not even keep their feet on the gas. So they stopped. Along with the rest of Canada, they held their breath. With that goal, they ran out of their trucks, on to the ice and embraced each other. Total strangers and tough men, they hugged each other and cried. Then they came to their senses got back in their trucks and carried on. None of us would ever be the same.
A few years later, the United States went up against those great players and felt the same thrill known as the miracle on ice. In both instances, the countries were united in rooting for their team. Hockey is often described as a battle. It is a tough and often brutal game, but it is brilliant and magnificent too. The finest players are swift, brave and in possession of a fierce intelligence.
The athletes make their mark. The sports writers, the announcers, and the broadcasters, make the events unforgettable.Will we ever forget Dick Button? Foster Hewitt is immortal. As we go into winter, I count on the writers up in the press box to put me right in the rink. I want to share the thrills with others. I want to see who we are up against. I love to see countries with smaller populations and fewer dollars to spend, present a formidable challenge. I love to see the Russians come out in their red jackets. It brings tears to my eyes because we have a common bond. In every category, I am in awe of their artistry and effort.
I understand why people want to go south in winter. I know they get tired of shoveling their driveways. I can grasp how spirits lag in the dark days. The first blades were made of wood. We went out into the snow in sweaters. We covered up in fur robes and had fun out on the ice. Then came the silver and we learned to carve. That sound, along with puck hitting the boards goes back to my infancy. I saw Petra Burka land the first triple jump in competition. She went on to become world champion, and she was from our club where her mother taught us. How could I not be a devoted fan for life? Moms, Dads, Zamboni drivers, and people all over the world, get ready. The Olympics are coming to Sochi, and we will be hosted by masters of the ice. I wait with bated breath.