FRONT

December 1 2003

FRONT

December 1 2003

FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

HOCKEY THE COOL WAY

A frozen strip of water, newly shovelled snow: that’s the game at its basic best

FOR THE PAST couple ofyears, we’ve been living in a small city west of Toronto. And while there are lots of things about the big city we miss, we’re more than happy about the decision because of a new sense of community we’ve gained. As they say, small is beautiful, and we’ve found that to be the case—especially with winter now approaching.

Our community is a tourist haven in summer, almost doubling in size, so deep winter can seem quiet in comparison. Some businesses close for the season, some residents head south, and through it all, a peaceful calm descends. There really are times when you could fire a snowball down the main street and not hit a thing. But for me, the best part of winter is the sight along the river that runs through the centre of town. I remember one cold Sunday afternoon last January when, for as far as the eye could see, there were freshly shovelled hockey rinks of all shapes and sizes taking form along the river ice. On those rinks were games pitting adults against kids, families against families, boys versus boys, girls vs. girls. It looked like a folk art painting: a canvas that could capture similar moments in small communities across this country. Hockey in its original form, on a frozen strip of water with the snow scraped aside.

It’s what made the concept of an NHL game in Edmonton so appealing to so many. Not just that Wayne Gretzky would be back on ice, but that he would be there with all his old buddies in the open, in the cold evening air just like all those kids who still practise their moves on pond ice from coast to coast to coast. So appealing that 56,000

fans bought tickets. Most of them did so months ago, when the idea was first born for a doubleheader, with an old-timers game and regular season contest to be played under the stars. Part of the allure was simply being there for a spectacle. But part was a sense that this represented the way it used to be in all cities, big and small, and not that long ago: an outdoor rink, where the change shack had an old wood stove you could use to burn your initials into your stick; where you’d have to shovel the ice every half hour when the snow was falling; where you’d have to stop the game every few minutes to dig through the snowbanks along the boards while both teams tried to find a lost puck.

These days, hockey is under attack for being boring: neutral zone traps, goalie pads that seem bigger than the net, and star players complaining they’ll quit early if something doesn’t change. That wonderful chronicler of all things Canadian, Roy MacGregor, wrote the other day that fans “no longer recognize what is being played on today’s professional ice.” Who can argue with that? Something is needed to reignite excitement in our game. Playing outdoors is a good start.

U Hockey is under attack for being too boring. Something is needed to reignite the excitement, and playing outdoors is a good start.

Of course, all this nostalgia for the old days—days that still exist on natural hockey rinks like the ones in our town—does have limits. A few weekends ago, I made the 300km round trip to Toronto for a Leafs home game against the Oilers in the sterile surroundings of the Air Canada Centre. My four-year-old son was so excited when I told him where we were going that he could barely talk. When he saw Mats Sundin, his hockey hero, up close, Spiderman was suddenly just a distant memory. That moment, and a father’s thrill that it caused, was something to cherish too. Even with thejumbotton overhead, and the Zamboni maintaining that perfect, artificial, ice.

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National. To comment: letters@macleans.ca

Passages

DIED New Zealand-born comic actor Tom Kneebone, a regular at Ontario’s Shaw and Stratford festivals and a memorable Puck in his prime, died after a heart attack in a Toronto hospital at 68.

WON: Polly Horvath, 46, who lives in Metchosin, B.C., won the prestigious U.S. National Book Award, for her children’s novel The Canning Season. Horvath, an American, has lived in Canada for 26 years.

DIED Robert McMichael, a war photographer who made scads of money in the 1960s purveying bridal gift packs was, along with wife Signe, one of Canada’s premier art collectors. His McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, northwest of Toronto, donated to Ontario in 1965, is a shrine to the Group of Seven. Six of the group are buried on the grounds and McMichael, who died of pneumonia at 82, will be buried alongside them.

APPOINTED: Retired Quebec judge Bernard Grenier takes up the newly created post of special adviser to the federal government on cases involving the wrongfully convicted.

GUILTY: John Allen Muhammad, 42, was found guilty of murder by a Virginia jury in the 10 sniper killings that terrified suburban Washington a year ago. His alleged accomplice, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo is being tried separately.

ACQUITTED; Marlène Chalfoun, a former Montreal probation officer, was acquitted of conspiring with two convicted rapists to have three of her relatives sexually assaulted. The judge accepted that she was engaging in a fantasy when she wrote sensational letters to one of the convicts.

DIED: Gene Anthony Ray, 41, the tough-kid actor/dancer who stole the show in the 1980 movie Fattie and its TV spinoff, died in New York City of complications from a stroke. He was also HIV positive, his family said.

BIRTHDAY; Mickey Mouse turned 75.