It has been a dark time for the hockey community over the past few weeks.
Allegations of racist comments, abuse, hazing and mistreatment of players, at all levels, dominated the headlines.
In this particular space, I dedicated plenty of time and effort to finding a way forward in the game, the difficulties and where the truth might be in all the stories that have come out about abuse, in all different forms.
What Hometown Hockey provided in Red Deer on the weekend, while I can’t speak for other communities, but certainly here, was a temporary distraction – a reminder of the purity of the game and why Canadians have been drawn to it forever.
Kids playing street hockey, young players donning the jerseys of their heroes or their own minor hockey uniform, whichever felt right. Hot chocolate to heal the hands from the cold, former NHL stars signing autographs and an appearance by the Stanley Cup. It’s those moments that make lifetime memories for kids.
About 40 teams took part in the parade of champions, showcasing the individuals who are the fabric of the sport in this community.
Hockey fans young and old crowded the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza, coming together to celebrate the game, coming together for each other.
“Kids are able to throw gloves on and put a stick in their hands, and that’s how you start,” said former NHLer Glen Wesley, who was born in Red Deer and was signing autographs on the weekend.
“It’s the grassroots atmosphere here and young players can understand the rules and are able to appreciate the game.”
Sports. They're a wonderful thing.
— NHL (@NHL) December 2, 2019
As time goes on and we grow older, that connection to the pure joy of the sport, for the love of it all and nothing else, gets lost.
That spirit gets mixed up in passion and politics, twisted like an unrecognizable pretzel, into a projection of something that doesn’t resemble why people were first drawn to hockey. Or why we introduced kids to the game in the first place.
It’s about that friendship, community and commitment to a cause that is beyond our own individual desires. The ability to rise a group up above what is possible by a set of individuals. And sure it’s about winning, but only if the kids want to (and they often do) because you can learn just as much about life by losing, as you can by winning.
In spite of everything that’s been said about hockey and all that needs to change, there is a pulse to the game that will simply keep beating in spite of everything, that will keep on churning Canadians’ passion for the sport.
The beacon of hope, that the game can be a better experience than the generation that came before – could be seen on the rosy-cheeked faces of the young players cheered their way through celebration plaza last weekend.
We may need to help point them in the right direction every once in a while, but at this moment, maybe it’s our time to take direction from them. Just enjoy it.