In pursuit of ice dreams

Being a hockey fan at this time of year is a lot like reading headlines about economic turmoil.

Being a hockey fan at this time of year is a lot like reading headlines about economic turmoil.

Case in point: Beware false hope, analysts say.

It’s good advice for those prone to devoting too much time, succumbing to couch inertia and indulging in overwrought emotion in support of something as ephemeral as the fortunes of fickle hockey players. False hope can plummet quickly into abject despair.

Welcome to the playoffs, National Hockey League style.

Millions of Canadians will don their favourite team’s jersey, get overly comfortable on the den furniture and settle in for the long haul. And it is long: a Stanley Cup champion won’t be crowned until well into June.

In the meantime, the grass will change colours, the bike and walking trails will be cleared of snow and debris (once or twice), the ice will leave the creeks, rivers and lakes — in short, the seasons will change.

But a nation that bemoans the length and the claustrophobic nature of its winter can’t seem to find its way outdoors until the last goal is scored.

Is that kind of devotion healthy or necessary?

As an Olympic year looms, on our own soil no less, the average Canadian’s dedication to Lord Stanley’s cause can be seen as patriotic. We’re just ramping up our fervour for Vancouver 2010, and offering our prayers to the hockey gods that, finally, a Canadian (or team of Canadians) can win gold at home.

And as we all know, the men’s Olympic hockey team will be made up of NHL stars, so it’s easy to see our attention to the Stanley Cup playoffs as just an extension of our patriotism. We’re helping Steve Yzerman identify the most likely members of the next dream team.

But that patriotism is a two-edged sword, and one edge is rather dull. The women’s national hockey team, whose members are remarkably dedicated to a program that brings them competition and joy but no money, are amateurs in the traditional Olympic sense. And their moments in the spotlight are brief, encapsulated in an annual world championship (just finished, with a gold medal loss) and the Olympics every four years. Their profile as players is minor at best.

They are not alone.

Hundreds of thousands of young Canadians play hockey. Countless more Canadians skate and chase pucks on neighbourhood rinks and ponds and down front streets. Their love of the game is rendered in bumpy strides on rough ice, banter with their friends and unrealized dreams that warm their hearts.

Millions more Canadians are tied to the game only at arm’s length. They know it and love it, but only from the safety of a seat.

They are no less Canadian for their lack of participation. But they are the ones who get damaged by the false hope: sedentary lives are not well lived, particularly when they end in despair as their favourite team is eliminated.

By all means, cheer for your team and relish their successes. But know that the game should inspire exercise, the pursuit of excellence, a celebration of skill and a sense of pride.

The only false hope is that the average Canadian can become an NHL star. The realistic hope is that the walking trails will be clear soon and we can all get outside and enjoy the rites of a spring well lived.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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