Melissa Walsh

Religious Hockey

Powerplay Communications | March 2011 | Hockey Mom Sense blog: "Religious Hockey"

If it weren’t for religion, chasing a puck around on skates would be meaningless. Anyone deeply involved with the spirited tradition of hockey is familiar with the sport’s rituals, mystics and gods.

Hockey certainly stretches your faith. It is a belief system that transcends rules and tactics, driving meaning and purpose into a player’s dedicated vision and a fan’s hopeful zeal. And in hockey’s victories and disappointments, joy and frustration, we — hockey’s matriarchs — choose always to keep the faith in religious hockey.

Like saints, memorable hockey players are known for courageous passion and humility. Outsiders don’t know this; they think hockey is a bully’s game. For the hockey player, greatness is a purpose, a mission from God — whom hockey folks refer to with the euphemism “the hockey gods.” Like mysticism, hockey sense can’t be taught, only honed with the help of wise coaching. And the lore and culture of the hockey life are reinforced by hockey moms.

Hockey moms who know that 80 percent of the game is the mental part nurture hockey toughness in the home. Hockey toughness is nurtured by hockey moms in Canada, where the mystique of hockey’s past and future are strongly interwoven into its present and whose national history includes remarkable hockey moments, such as Henderson’s goal to seal the national team’s victory against the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series. Hockey toughness is nurtured by American hockey moms old enough to remember how the hockey game presented a miracle for the United States in 1980 — a blessing that wouldn’t have been realized without the fierce physical training and mental strength of Herb Brooks’ players.

Sure, religious hockey forces upon us hockey moms a certain fanaticism. We undertake the religious-hockey instruction of our home. We wear a hockey mom pin close to our heart next to a cross. We teach the kids about the stories of great players, how they controlled the puck for a purpose greater than themselves — for the team and for the fans. We tell them that hockey players don’t act selfishly, don’t disrespect authority and don’t tattle. We adorn the kids’ bedrooms with images of Mr. Hockey, The Rocket, The Great One, The Next One and Mario the Magnificent. We dress them in the jersey’s of hockey’s finest armies and taken them on their first pilgrimage to Toronto. We allow them to grow hockey hair. We cooperate with the dervish behavior of our goalies, honoring pre-game rituals and superstitions. We buy the little ones tape in their lucky color and work with team managers to get them their lucky jersey number.

I like hockey because if you’re patient and loyal in fighting the good fight, you’ll eventually taste victory. Every hockey insider knows that. And though the hockey gods have been attributed with great disappointments, such as imposing a 54-year-long curse on the powerful city of New York, they’re not despised by the game’s great players and coaches. Rather, “the hockey gods,” or the purity in the momentum of the game, are respected. Mike Babcock said, “The hockey gods are fair. If you don’t play hard, you don’t win.” Occupying hockey’s core then is a faith in a divine justice. It pumps meaning into the tenacious backcheck, the relentless forecheck and the confident attack on net. And for goalies, the hockey game can give them the power to stop time.

So to the end of rearing my kids into sainthood, I raise them as hockey players, because in hockey there are no shortcuts. It’s just like life.

For its promotion of strong values, development of character and offering of lessons for the trials of real life, I believe in hockey.