Only some fifty years ago, the National Hockey League comprised six teams, two in Canada and four in the United States. Every player in the NHL at the time had learned hockey in Canada. There were some players, most notably the immortal Stan Mikita, God bless his soul, who had been born outside of Canada but raised in Canada.
There were many good reasons for this to have been the case. First, Canada has a true winter, one in which water stays frozen for weeks or months at a time. Many boys learned to skate at the same time they learned to walk. Many boys skated for hours on end in the dark of Canada’s winter nights in a frozen “rink” in their back yards.
In the United States there are a few states that have long, hard winters such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Even in these cold states, winter s too short and thaws are too frequent for outdoor ice to stay frozen for long. In Canada, the ice also melts eventually and kids have to skate indoors during the so-called summer. Indoor rinks were at the time far more prevalent in Canada than in the US. After all, hockey was the national game in Canada but just another sport in the United States.
Double Axle or Board Check
Indoor rinks in the US were far more likely to exist for figure skaters than for hockey players.
Go North Young Man
Naturally, then, hockey coaches gravitated to Canada. Many Canadian boys were sent at very young ages, sometimes as young as 12, to play hockey in Junior Leagues. These boys lived in dormitories, studied and played hockey. The Junior Leagues served the purpose of honing the skills of the best Canadian players from very young ages and also taught these boys a great deal of humility. Hockey players even today are known for their great humility. And in no other sport do rival players formally congratulate each other after a playoff series has finished.
But the Junior Leagues are located relatively close to the boys’ family’s homes in Canada. American parents were reluctant to send their boys to play in Canadian Junior Leagues.
From 6 to 31 in the Blink of an Eye
Then the league expanded in the late 1960’s and now has 31 teams. Canada has long been too small to provide all the players needed for the NHL and the several minor hockey leagues. For many years, the US has supplied many players to the league and Europe also supplies vast numbers of players to the NHL.
Britain is not Finland
Unfortunately, Great Britain is not one of the European countries supplying players to the NHL. On the one hand, Great Britain’s winters are too warm relatively speaking to provide enough outdoor ice for young boys to practice skating. Britain is a crowded country with little empty space for back yard rinks. And football is the British sport by far. So whatever empty space there is left unfrozen for the boys and even many girls to enjoy football.
This is not to say that British hockey is not entertaining. Modern hockey is primarily a fast speed skating game with the fine motor skills of passing and stick handling of less importance. They are important of course but speed tops everything else in the modern world of ice hockey.
British hockey players are not the best skaters around but they play a brand of hockey that is fun to watch. We can still marvel at the amazing skating ability even as we marvel at ball handling skills in football players. We would encourage British sports fans to devote some of their sports entertainment pounds to British hockey. Hockey will never rival football or even a favourite casino online for good action and fun. But hockey is an expensive game to run and without more fan support the league may very well falter.
Even for a football, cricket, and rugby crazy nation, the loss of professional hockey would be a severe blow indeed. So, support British hockey as much as you can. The game is so good and fun to watch! If you have never attended a hockey match, you’ll be thrilled and surprised by how entertaining it truly is.