Our son hasn’t played minor hockey in more than twenty years. Back then having a kid in hockey was not a cheap proposition. Minor hockey fees and equipment were direct out-of-pocket expenses and easy to tabulate. Less so, were the fundraisers; fuel to get to practices, games, and tournaments; hotel rooms, and all those meals of burgers and fries consumed in arenas and restaurants across northeastern Alberta.
If anything, relatively-speaking, it’s only gotten worse for guys like Grady playing in a big minor hockey system like Strathcona County’s.
Then and now, critics say that hockey is for the privileged. Indeed, there are charities and resale shops and corporate donations in existence solely to make sure that any kid who wants to play can. There is compassion. How often do we see TV footage of a critically ill child getting their dying wish granted by spending time in a pro team’s dressing room or on the ice with players?
Hockey is more than a game. It’s part of our national DNA. We have a storied past and moments of glory (or heartbreak) that mark our collective psyche. We remember the Canada-Russia series of 1972. We mourn the loss of Mr. Hockey and his ilk. We’re pained when the greatest players eventually have to hang ’em up.
Some of us jump on and off a team’s bandwagon depending on the state of play. Some hang on, for generations, to teams who haven’t won anything real in fifty years. Some show exasperation and anger by calling for player trades and wanting GM and coach heads to roll. Some are endlessly patient during the ’rebuilding’ phase and cut the young ones years of slack.
In Edmonton, there is no shortage of critics. People are angry with Daryl Katz and the deal the city cut for the Rogers Place/Ice District project. There are those who believe that as long as there is a pothole or a homeless person, nothing good or big or aspirational or entrepreneurial or, egads, frivolous and fun can exist. There are people who don’t understand how economies work. Just because we can’t afford something, doesn’t mean it’s overpriced. My values may not jibe with yours, but they’re equally legit. I can’t afford season’s tickets but I sure as hell don’t begrudge those who can. They keep the local economy humming and bring joy to us either directly or vicariously. Some are ticked off that the games are only available through satellite packages. So, watch at a friend’s or go to a bar or listen to the radio. Just quit your bitching.
Most of us are enchanted by what we see with the Oilers’ dream run through the playoffs. Even when we get mad at the refs or the smugness of the Getzlaf crew or the passes get sloppy or the clock runs out. Or we lose a heartbreaker. Or we’re too nervous to chant.
This Cinderella run has energized the city, fans, businesses, families, and anyone smart enough to recognize joy comes in all guises. Count me among them, from where I sit. Go Oilers Go!
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.