Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grandpa's Hockey

It’s hard to explain to non-Canadians how much hockey means to Canada. I’m not sure if there’s another country in the world that has a single sport so deeply woven into its national identity. The ‘72 Summit Series, the ‘87 Canada Cup, the 2010 Olympics — these are events that, within Canada, are arguably on par with the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall. I know that sounds ridiculous. But it’s true.

Hockey has deep roots in many Canadian families. My grandpa grew up in Montreal and played until the end of high school. For part of his adult life, his office was in the Forum. Once in a while, he’d pass the Rocket in the hallway on the way home from work. When I heard that he had some team pictures from his junior and senior high school years in the 1930s, I asked him to send them to me; once they arrived, I knew I had to share them. I emailed him a few questions, and he was kind enough to answer:

What’s your earliest hockey memory?

I guess my earliest memory is my father taking my brother and me to a hockey game in the late 1920s at the Montreal Forum to watch the Montreal Canadiens play the Montreal Maroons. You could say that this was a French team playing an English team and it sometimes created as much commotion amongst the fans as it did with the players. I believe the Maroons ceased to exist in the early 1930s and some of its players signed on with the Canadiens. This was a good idea and created a loyalty of all Montrealers to their Montreal Canadiens, both English and French.

Were you the only one in your family who played hockey, or was it something everyone did?

I was the only one who played hockey and I absolutely loved it. I would sometimes come home from a school game, have supper, and then go off to play in one of our league games. I can still see my father just shaking his head! My brother was never a keen player of any sport. I guess it just wasn’t part of his nature.

Who were your hockey heroes growing up?

My earliest heroes were Montreal Maroon players such as Jimmy Ward, Hooley Smith, Nels Stewart, Russ Blinco. For the Montreal Canadiens it would naturally be Howie Morenz, Aurele Joliat, Pit Lepin, Johnny Gagnon and the Mantha brothers.

How aware were you of hockey history as a kid? I mean — did you know who the stars were from your dad’s era? Was your dad a hockey fan, too?

I don`t think the NHL as we know it has a very long history. I think that Google could answer that. [According to Wikipedia, the NHL was founded in 1917; the Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893.] As a kid I knew what was going on at that time. I knew who the stars were at that time and had large newspaper pictures of them on my bedroom wall.

Since my father and mother had only emigrated from Britain after WWI my father was naturally a stranger to hockey but became interested as time went by. He played cricket for his employer for a few years and told me he played soccer and rugby in his youth.

What position did you play?

I played Center but most of the time I was Right Wing. When I played on the Intermediate team at High School I enjoyed playing my last year of organized hockey on defence.

Any tips for hockey players starting out at that position?

The main tip I would give a player of any position when they are beginners is—learn to handle the puck in front of you but be constantly aware of where you are heading and who is heading for you.

You can’t keep your head down and only look at the puck. This takes some time to learn but makes playing the game safer allows you to get around the opposition easier and gives you the ability to see just where to shoot the puck when getting close to the oppositions net.

What do you think of Sidney Crosby? How does he compare to the stars of years gone by?

I think that Sydney Crosby is a wonderfully gifted player and if he can continue his career he will rank with the other great players of the game.

Thanks, Grandpa!

Photos from top to bottom: Guy Drummond Public School Hockey Team, 1935-1936. Grandpa is front row, second from right (and Howie Morenz, Jr, is front row, center); Strathcona Academy High School, 1936-1937 Junior Section Champions. Grandpa is middle row, 5th from left; Strathcona Academy High School, 1938-1939 Intermediate. Grandpa is back row, 3rd from left.

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