Montreal Canadiens Hockey Sweater and McGill University Hockey Team Stick - c.1878 (stick); c. 1930s (sweater)

Montreal Canadiens Hockey Sweater and McGill University Hockey Team Stick
Organization: McCord Museum
Coordinates: http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca
Address: 690 Sherbrooke Street West Montreal, QC H3A 1E9
Region: Montreal
Contact: info(a)mccord.mcgill.ca
Description: Hockey sweater of the Montreal Canadiens from the 1930s and a Wooden Hockey stick used by Lewis Skaife for the McGill University Hockey team 1878-1881.
Year made: 1878 and 1930s
Made by: Unknown
Materials/Medium: Wool knit and wood
Colours: Blue, white, red, Natural wood
Provenance: Montreal, Quebec
Size: Sweater 56 cm / Hockey Stick 109.5 cm long
Photos: © McCord Museum, M2001.43.1 and M995.18.1

Hockey: For the Love of the Game

Jack Todd

It is as vast as a frozen lake in winter, in a time before the changing climate drove the game indoors. It is as small as a boy with his first pair of skates, curled up in bed, waiting for dawn and the shaky steps that will one day become the long, graceful strides of a great player.

It is the Bell Centre at playoff time, with 21,273 screaming fans trying to turn the roof into an Unidentified Flying Object. It’s the hockey mom, driving her kid to the rink for the six o’clock skate on a January morning, when the only sound is the hiss of blade on ice.

It’s a multi-billion-dollar business – and it’s hockey parents cancelling a dinner date so they can buy a new pair of skates for a hockey-playing daughter.

It’s Henderson’s goal, Bobby Orr in flight, Patrick Roy’s wink, Don Cherry’s too many men on the ice, Montreal’s 24 Stanley Cups and a society-transforming riot touched off by the suspension of a hockey hero.

Hockey is Jacques Plante’s mask and Bobby Hull’s slapshot. It’s Gordie Howe’s elbows. It’s Toe Blake’s fedora and Scotty Bowman behind the bench. It’s Frank Selke Jr. and Sam Pollock wheeling and dealing, it’s Yvan Cournoyer’s speed and Tim Horton’s legendary strength. It’s Wayne Gretzky's vision and the grace of Mario Lemieux or Guy Lafleur in full flight.

It’s the class of Jean Béliveau. It’s Rocket Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games. It’s the courage of Terry Sawchuk, the drive of Sidney Crosby, the dazzle of Alex Ovechkin, the wrists of Steven Stamkos. It’s John Ferguson squaring off against Ted Lindsay, two battlers who asked no quarter and offered none.

It’s a series against the Soviet Union, with an entire way of life on the line. It’s our despair that the machine-like Russians could ever be defeated, and our joy from coast to coast, when the Soviets were defeated and our players came home in triumph.

It’s the loonie buried under the ice in Salt Lake City. It’s the parade along the usual route. It’s Montreal kids growing up to hate the Toronto Maple Leafs as an article of faith, and Toronto kids wondering why 1967 is so very long ago.

It’s Canada’s women, proving they can fare every bit as well as the men on the biggest stage in the world of sport.

It’s hockey and it’s in our blood – in Quebec as nowhere else.

Hockey is our secular religion. At times, it’s not even secular. During the 1990s we could, without irony, refer to the Montreal Forum as St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The degree of worship accorded to the magnificent goaltender Patrick Roy would have turned any bishop green with envy. (Except that the bishop, of course, would also be a hockey fan.)

Hockey is perhaps the sole subject upon which English and French-speaking Montrealers can agree without hesitation. When we talk hockey, we can make sweeping statements without fear of contradiction: Hockey is our sport. Its heroes are our heroes. The Canadiens are the greatest team in the history of the game.

The greatest players to wear the CH are ranked in a rigid, indisputable hierarchy: Maurice “the Rocket” Richard; Jean “Le Gros Bill” Béliveau and Guy “the Flower” Lafleur.

The greatest skaters are matched by the three great goaltenders, although the order in which they should be ranked will start an argument in any brasserie: Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.

Although much about the game has changed since the first hockey game was played at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink on March 3, 1875, much remains the same: Skating, shooting, scoring, making the save. The old curved wooden sticks have given way to pricey composite sticks, players wear protective gear that gives them the illusion of safety, and skate blades are lethally sharp – but the game is still the game.

Although hockey is now played around the world, from China to Israel and from Helsinki to Irkutsk, it is and always will be Canada’s game. And more than anywhere else in Canada, it’s Montreal’s game. Hockey was born here. It was most fervently embraced by French-Canadians. The first hockey superstars played here: Joe Malone, Newsy Lalonde, Howie Morenz, Rocket Richard.

Morenz’s premature death in 1937 was the first great hockey tragedy. The Richard Riot in 1955 marked more than a fan outcry at what was seen as the unjust suspension of Rocket Richard by NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell; it was also the unofficial beginning of the Quiet Revolution that would transform the province and the country.

As much as others in Canada and the U.S. might love the game, it is in Quebec that our passion for hockey would become a religion.

Chez nous, we don’t simply love hockey: we are hockey.

Sources
Roch Carrier, The Hockey Sweater, 1979.
Ken Dryden, The Game: A Thoughtful and Provocative Look at a Life in Hockey, 1983.
Brian McFarlane, The History of Hockey, 1997.
Michael McKinley, Hockey: A People’s History, 2009.
Red Fisher, Hockey, Heroes and Me, 1996.
Jean Beliveau, My Life in Hockey, 1994.
Roy McGregor, Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost: And Other Tales from a Lifetime in Hockey, 2011.
Stephen Brunt, Searching for Bobby Orr, 2006
Randall Maggs, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, 2008.

To Learn More
Joanna Avery and Julie Stephens, Too Many Men on the Ice: Women's Hockey in North America, 1997.
John Chi-Kit Wong, Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War, 2009.
Brian McFarlane, Proud Past Bright Future: One Hundred Years of Canadian Women's Hockey, 1994.
Michael P.J. Kennedy ed., Going Top Shelf: An Anthology of Canadian Hockey Poetry, 2005.

Author
Jack Todd is a Montreal journalist and novelist who has been writing hockey columns for the Gazette for twenty years. Todd grew up in Nebraska and discovered hockey when he first arrived in Montreal in the winter of 1971, at the same time when a young goalie named Ken Dryden joined the Canadiens. When the Habs defeated Bobby Orr's Bruins en route to a miracle Stanley Cup that spring, he became a passionate convert to the sport – and like most converts, he's a bit addled on the subject of hockey.

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