OK, It's 2012, But The Spirit Of 1883 Prevails
Hockey isn't an All-American sport. It's too warm for it in most of the USA, and it is more of a regional thing here. Think "NASCAR on a tundra." Basically, it is a love affair that runs along the northern US states, where it is taken very seriously.
However, hockey is as old of a sport as we have. It's way older than the NFL, it laughs at basketball's newness, and Abner Doubleday was a baby when people were already playing hockey. I actually took a Sports History class in college, and you'd be amazed at just how long Americans were perfectly content with no other sporting options than horse racing, chicken fighting, and a sort of WWE-styled street brawling.
Once sports drifted into organized teams territory, however... the first sport to really come together was hockey. It started off in Montreal, but it soon went anywhere that got cold enough for the lakes to freeze. Even with today's NHL miles behind the NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA, and NASCAR, you don't have to drive too far to find a hockey rink in New England. If it's cold enough, you only have to walk to the pond.
Again, hockey is an ancient sport. Some variation of hockey was probably played by Neanderthals, ie "using a stick to move something across ice while someone/something else tries to get it from you." You can find hockey-like sports being played by the Dutch and the Mi'kmaq in the Middle Ages. You can find direct references to hockey dating back to 1810 Canada, as European immigrants adapted their ball-and-stick games to a more frozen Canuckian climate.
Americans previously played a sport called Ice Polo, but it fell out of fashion. By 1893, they were playing ice hockey at Northern colleges, and the NHL wasn't that far behind. Now, they have teams in Arizona and Dallas, they import Russians to play, and people fill giant arenas to watch hockey.
Not a lot of people know that the first organized, modern ice hockey game played in real (US) America went down on a pond near a prep school in Concord, New Hampshire. The year was 1883, and the school was the very ritzy St. Paul's School.
SP was a hockey powerhouse a century ago, and they were able to beat teams like Harvard and Princeton. Hobey Baker played there, for all you Old School reference people. Even if you be hatin' on wealthy alums like Astors and Vanderbilts, you gotta like a school that used to cancel classes to celebrate the pond freezing enough to skate on. The region is hockey-driven enough that a collection of locals and school staff hosted and nearly beat the 1952 US Olympic team (they led 5-3 after two periods).
As far as this column is concerned, you can keep that big arena hockey... I prefer hockey games that are played on ponds. I'm a purist. I truly believe that, if I could get Tiger Woods to come to Sand-n-Surf mini golf in Wareham, I could whip him... there's no way he can hit it through that windmill unless he goes there as much as I do. I'm incorrect, but the delusion is a good one.
People agree with me, at least insofar as pond hockey goes. The NHL's big recent innovation is the Winter Classic, which is what they call flooding the local baseball field and playing hockey on it. The people love it, and- if you ignore the TV and the Roman stadiums- it's pretty much 1883 again.
Most of us don't play hockey in arenas or even in local rinks... we play on frozen ponds. We played Shinny. Sh*t, in my neighborhood, we used to shoot at a lobster trap. If you missed a shot on goal, you had to chase the puck a quarter mile. It wasn't unusual for someone to fall through the ice, a happening that would liven up NHL games. Outside of a small, professional elite, most of us are more used to Pond Hockey than NHL style conditions. We're less 2012 than 1883 in our style.
New Hampshire manages to keep it 1883 with the 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship. It is a series of 4 on 4 games (7 players per team) played on six rinks. The goal of the tournament is to keep it Old School, and to provide opportunities for local hockey players. By doing so, they celebreate the rich hockey heritage of the region.
This year's entertainment was delayed by an incredibly mild winter, but they handled business recently. Cape Cod Today was there, as the Sports Desk never misses a Pond Hockey championship. We honestly believe that the Stanley Cup should be a 7 game tournament, with 3 games at each of the team's arenas, and one game played on a frozen cranberry bog.
We'll end with our very own John (Black) Tarr, representing Falmouth.
Much love to column favorite Lisa Segal for the pics.