I am not a hockey fan. I'm not not a hockey fan, but I'm not a real hockey fan. I cheer for the Habs, I watch only during the playoffs, I vaguely care about the Canadian teams.
I respect it, of course. It has roughly the same level of difficulty as most other professional team sports, except, the players are on skates. That's really hard to do. But I still prefer to watch almost every other sport - basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, two-man bobsled - over hockey.
Unless of course there is some kind of international competition, at which time, uncontrollably, my entire pride and national worth get poured into 25 men - many of whom are years my junior, and who I wouldn't necessarily put on a pedestal otherwise.
And yet, in these men, I invest my happiness and nerves for a few days every four years.
After yesterday's announcement of our Sochi roster, and my realization that this team will be our country-wide obsession for the next six weeks, I'm trying to detangle myself from this odd thing, connection our national pride seems to have with the sport of hockey.
The NHL and its players don't necessarily represent my values or myself or my community or my nation. It's violent. It's somewhat elitist. It's not immigrant friendly, gay friendly or girl friendly.
It's a boys club. Sometimes, when I watch hockey, and all the men who sit around their semi-circular tables on TV and analyze it, I feel like I'm watching Mad Men. It's like a little time capsule of an older set of ideals, where males could be separated into two categories: "men" and "sissies," where you could settle any dispute with your fists, and where women and minorities were simply not seen or heard.
Of course there are instances of multi-culture (P.K. Subban, who is black, is on the Canadian Olympic team) and inclusivity (Brian Burke, whose son was gay, marched in Toronto's Pride Parade). But millions of Canadians still tune in on Saturday nights to see Don Cherry, a war-supporting, violence-encouraging man's man spew his wisdom on the sport. This is the man who once said, after placing the chain of office around Rob Ford's neck, "I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything," and about the mayor himself: "that's why I say he's gonna be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen, as far as I'm concerned! And put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks."
Ahh yes, Don Cherry can be seen as an out-of-touch grandpa type, certainly. But it is just that kind of old-school association that keeps the NHL somewhat stuck in the past, while our values as a nation march forward.
And so, I'm reminded that, while the sport of hockey is noble and great, hockey isn't Canada, and Canada isn't hockey, despite what any Nike commercial tells me; despite the fact that I couldn't watch that Sidney Crosby Tim Horton's commercial without a tear rolling down my Canadian cheek. I'll enjoy these Olympics as much as I ever have, but I'll try not to get so wrapped up in it. It'll be great if we defend our gold medal in Sochi, but we'll be fine if we don't.
I hope Canada is always the best on the ice. I'm proud that we still constitute more than half of the NHL. But we should prepare for the fact that this won't be the case for long.
Because it's only a decade or two more that we'll be heavy favourites. Canada will probably never dominate a sport the way we've dominated hockey because our talents will spread out over other activities and other leagues, because families will choose to put their kids into more accessible sports like soccer and basketball, because moms and dads will fear for their children's safety on the ice. And our merits outside of the sport realm will (hopefully) be given equal accolade to those within it.
Hockey won't always be our best asset. And that's not a bad thing.