When speaking of Canada and sports, ice hockey will presumably come into the minds of many. In 1994 the National Sports of Canada Act was enacted and since then, ice hockey is recognized as Canadian official national winter sport, although it is played all year round. Until 2006, hockey was portrayed on a $5 Canadian series banknote. What then, does hockey mean to Canada, that its presence is on Canadian banknotes and even in the Canadian law? People, both foreigners and Canadians, very often portray ice hockey as something characteristically Canadian and it is not very far from the truth. Hockey is considered to be an unifying element for Canadian diverse society. It is the source of entertainment for the Canadian society and an all year round covered and discussed topic in Canadian mass media sphere. Canada is also one of the countries with the highest number of professional hockey players in the National Hockey League, both active and retired, which indicates how effective Canadians are in this sport. Furthermore, Canada’s geography and climate enables to play hockey outside throughout the whole year, which is a great advantage compared to some other countries with professional hockey teams. Ultimately, hockey is one of the greatest Canadian exports therefore it has a positive influence on Canada’s economy.
Firstly, ice hockey is a connecting symbol for such a vast and heterogenous society. Hockey has its roots in Canadian history and since hockey emerged in times of political insecurity and discomfort during post confederation Canada, Canada lacked national unity, with linguistic, regional and ethnical divisions throughout the whole nation and with immigration, Canadian society became a very diverse one. Hockey soon became an unifying symbol for such society, consequently transferring its value from vernacular into a symbolic one. Ice rink became the place, where cultural, ethnic, racial, social class and gender differences can be omitted. Like sports in general, hockey helps to encourage personal and national pride of Canadians. Hockey also has a bonding effect on the Anglophones, Francophones and other Canadians like, who usually separate themselves from each other, when all of them get together during sports events, such as hockey championships and the winter Olympic games, and cheer for their national Canadian team to win. As hockey is such a symbol of Canada, it became a point entry into the Canadian culture. A new Canadian can easily engage in the game and in playing “Canada”.
Secondly, ice hockey is one of the biggest topics of pastime discussed throughout Canada. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the game rapidly expanded and that is when the National Hockey Association, later National Hockey League, was formed and it became a crucial source of professional hockey experience. Hockey became a national source of entertainment available to anyone. The popularity of hockey is omnipresent throughout the whole country, it is a very high participated sport by all men, women and children. Millions of people buy tickets to see their favorite teams play live, or they watch hockey in TV and thousands of people play hockey either for entertainment or professionally. Hockey is present in the newspaper headlines, commercials, Canadian literature and films, and even on post stamps. Professional hockey became a daily discussed topic in both mass media and daily conversations. As Jason Blake claims: ” Canadian hockey talk ranges from empty banter about rooting for the home team, to a means of avoiding more serious or uncomfortable topics, to involved discussion of strategy or the cultural significance of the game.” Simply meaning that hockey is a topic Canadians discuss on daily basis.
Thirdly, Canadian superiority is a long-term aspect in the National Hockey League. Canadian professional hockey teams were present in the NHL since the beginning. The original two teams, Montréal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, are still present and since 1970, another five Canadian teams joined the League: Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. Although the proportion of the League is seven Canadian teams to twenty-four American ones, the amount of players playing there is very different. The All-time statistics show, that the proportion of both active and retired Canadian players in the NHL is 67%. Compared to the Americans with 15.7% and other twenty-eight nationalities making up the rest, Canadians have a significant predominance. Even if we only take the active players, still, Canadians make up more than 46%, leaving the US born players with 26.1%. This only proves, how sufficient Canadians are in the professional hockey industry. USA’s population is almost nine times larger than the Canadian one, and still, Canada predominates in the proportion of the NHL players, confirming, that hockey really is theirs.
Fourthly, Canadian climate enables to play hockey all year round. As a country with cold climate throughout the year, winter sports are more suited. With extremely cold winters, it is very easy to play hockey outdoors. Also, it makes it much more affordable compared to other parts of the world. Outdoor hockey is a tradition for many Canadians during the long winters. Many towns have their own outdoor ice rinks built, and families sometimes build their own ice rink on their backyards, although that does not occur very often, as 70% out of 1500 Canadians answered, that they have never built a backyard rink when they were asked in a poll. Canada’s geographical aspect has definitely helped to anchor hockey’s status. Canada’s geography may differentiate from East to West and North to South, however the rink remains the same size and the game remains with the same rules.
Finally, ice hockey industry supports Canada’s economy. Ice hockey and economy in Canada are connected. The hockey industry is defended and supported by the state in such ways as government funding of facilities or various tax and fiscal provisions. In 2015, the economic impact related to hockey was worth more than eleven billion dollars annually, relating mostly to tourism, but counting sources such as merchandise, souvenirs, season passes and game tickets as well. The direct hockey-related impact moving between Canadian communities is worth 2.6 billion dollars each year. Hockey at a professional level directly contributed to the economy through the National Hockey League. NHL participates by contributing 41% of the annual amount to the economy – 31% from the NHL clubs and events and 10% from the salaries of the players, or other NHL employees, who come back home to Canada. About a half of the 2.6 billion comes from tourism, both international and inter-community and 6% come from sponsorships.
In conclusion, hockey maintains a powerful influence on Canadian culture. For Canadians, hockey offers an escape, it is understood and played by people of all ages, races, ethnicity and social backgrounds, regardless in which part of Canada they live, whether it is the Anglophone or the Francophone part of the country. Hockey is therefore the common language of the varied Canadian society. Hockey’s omnipresence in Canada is represented both as a source of entertainment for the society and the source of mass media. Also, for professional hockey players it is the source of livelihood. As for the professional hockey sphere, Canadians are the chief nation in the proportion of the National Hockey League players, although Canadian population, compared for instance to the US born players in the NHL who are the second nation with the most players there, is almost nine times lower. Canadians may be thankful to Canada’s cold climate for that, which enables them to train on ice for the whole year, even though there is no proof of Canada’s climate being the reason for the Canadian success in the NHL, so this may be arguable. Still, it is a large benefit compared to some other nations, where hockey players have to wait for winter season to train on ice. Ultimately, hockey industry is a sweeping contributor to the economy of Canada. Therefore, the major consequences hockey on Canada has are in social unity, national pride and economic wealth.