It’s Not Just a Game, It’s Canada’s Game: One Nation’s Love Affair with Hockey
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
Ask anyone what makes December special and you’ll get a few answers, whether it be the snow, holiday activities, or spending time with family, but there’s one thing in December that all Canadians can agree on loving: hockey. It brings together many aspects that Canadians love, like being proud Canadians, watching the great sport that is hockey, and hopefully beating the U.S. team in the finals (We know what you can do and we won’t let it happen again). We will be looking to cheer on our country in Pyeongchang, but Olympic hockey is only a glimpse into the world of the sport we know and love, rightfully so being Canada’s sport.
Arguing that hockey is Canada’s game isn’t just an opinion, it’s a fact: roughly 49% of all players in the NHL are Canadian. It seems like that number should be higher, but it still is the majority in professional hockey. The U.S. is responsible for roughly 24% of players, and the remaining 27% come from mainly the regions of Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, and then the rest of the world are grouped together in a tiny percentage. Considering that there are almost 200 countries in the world, and only one country makes up almost half of the best hockey players in the world, Canada is kind of a big deal. Though opinions are subjective when it comes to who the greatest hockey player of all time is, a few names usually make up a general top 5: Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, and of course Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Though all these players were active in different eras, playing on different teams with new teammates and opponents each season, they all have one thing in common: they all come from the Great White North. Of course, many amazing players who have played through the years from countries all over, but when some of the best players of all-time are all Canadian, it’s no longer an argument but rather a fact.
All Canadians will have the image of Sidney Crosby scoring the game winning goal on home ice in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics forever ingrained in their brain, but this is only a glimpse of the greatness that comes with Canadian hockey. For those who aren’t millennials, they’ll also remember two other important goals in Canada’s hockey history: Paul Henderson’s goal that beat the Soviets during the historic Canada-Russia battle in 1972, as well as Mario Lemieux’s 1987 Canada Cup game-winning goal that ended the series and again topped the Russians. Canada has 9 Olympic gold medals, including back to back winter Olympic wins in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. Canada has also finished in the top 2 in the last 3 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championships, coming 2nd in 2017, but capturing gold in both 2015 and 2016. Looking into the U20 IIHF World Junior team, Canada always comes ready to compete. In the 2018 Gold Medal game, Canada added another gold medal to the 16 they already own, including win 15 in 2015, and also adding their 9th silver last year in an unfortunate loss to the rival U.S. team. Names that have appeared on the U20 are the likes of Carey Price, Kris Letang, P.K. Subban, Jordan Eberle, John Tavares, Max Domi, and of course Connor McDavid. Many iconic Canadian players have donned the red and white to not only represent their country, but to show every other country that Canada knows how to play the sport best. Although this year there is a change to the lineup as no NHL players will be playing in the Olympic games, many ex-NHLers and up and coming players who play in amateur leagues will be looking to uphold the legacy that is Canada Hockey.
2018 marks 25 years since a Canadian team hoisted Lord Stanley in the air and brought it back to our home and native land. This may tarnish all that’s said about hockey being Canada’s game, but let’s look at this more in perspective; in the last 9 years, only 4 teams have won the Stanley Cup: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. The captains for both Pittsburgh and Chicago, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, are both Canadian. Though one player cannot win a cup on his own, both of these players have had major impact on the success of their respectful programs. As for Boston and L.A., both of their captains aren’t even from North America (Zdeno Chara of Boston being from Slovakia, and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar is Slovenian), but assistant captains Patrice Bergeron of Boston and Drew Doughty of L.A. are both canucks as well. Though these are only a tiny, miniscule example of some of the big Canadian names in hockey, not even mentioning some very key players, the trend here is that even though a team may not be a Canadian team, they have more than their share of Canadians on their roster, and not just any Canadians, but ones who can change the game and bring home a cup to their current city.
How does all this relate to business? Well, Canadian hockey is worth $11 billion annually. Of that monstrosity of a number, almost all of it is due to hockey culture and the spread of teams across the country. 47% of the revenue comes from tourism related to professional hockey, whether it be through the community or internationally related, while another 40% is spectator related, which includes tickets, merchandise, events, fantasy leagues, season passes and so on. This also impacts the minor hockey leagues that children grow up playing in, with $2.6 billion flowing through the system, with $1 billion coming back directly to communities of less than 100K people. In Ontario, there are almost 900 hockey rinks across the province, with Alberta being 2nd with 420 and Quebec coming 3rd with 358. 1.64% of the population plays hockey, which may not seem like a lot, but is over half a million people, and is not only 100,000 more players than the U.S, but also 10% the ratio of players to general population, as they sit at only 0.15%. There are almost 2,500 rinks across the province, and almost 7 hours a week of every Canadian’s life is spent somehow interacting with the sport during hockey season. Even for those who aren’t native to Canada, 68% of those who move to Canada become a hockey fan 5 to 10 years after moving to Canada, and that number jumps to 80% after residing in the country for more than 10 years.
Hockey is not only a business, sport, or a pastime, but rather a piece of Canada’s identity. Whether someone grows up playing hockey, watching it, or just hearing about it, even those who don’t consider themselves hockey fans still have some knowledge of the sport due to the nature of loving hockey in Canada. Hockey is Canada’s national sport for a reason, and not just because we’re good at it. Hockey will always be relevant to Canada, whether it be the talent we produce, the hundreds of thousands of kids who play the sport aspiring to make it big, or winning another championship (Auston, I know you’re not Canadian, but please help us). With that being said, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and here’s to Canada hopefully bringing home another gold just like we know they can.