Sunday, February 23, 2014

Watching Olympic hockey before dawn

So the sky is still dark here in the Great White North, but like pretty much everyone else in this country, I find myself awake, bathed in the glow of a flat screen TV, waiting for the Canada-Sweden Olympic gold medal hockey game to get underway in Sochi.

It's quite the kick to live in a country where a sport is so revered that it almost becomes religion. Where complete strangers come together to celebrate a common love of a seemingly simple sport that defines a disproportionately large chunk of our national identity.

For the past couple of weeks, we've all watched in awe as Canadian athletes in a bunch of sports we don't much "get" distinguish themselves on the world stage. As proud as we typically reserved Canadians are of the almost-world-leading medal haul, the sad truth remains that we won't pay much attention to sports like half-pipe snowboarding, slopestyle or bobsledding until the next Winter Games roll around. It shouldn't be that way - I'd love to watch this stuff all the time, but for some reason most of these sports will never crack the dominance of the so-called major sports in mainstream news cycles.

But hockey is something else entirely. To a certain extent, it is a part of who we are. Like many kids, I played shinny on an outdoor rink in a half-built park a block away from my house. We'd played until we couldn't feel our toes, then head inside to warm up, then we'd come back out, shovel the ice and play some more.

As a nation, we've stopped our everyday life twice already this week. Our son's grade 8 class livestreamed it on an in-class computer. My wife, a teacher, loaded it up on the computer, as well. Our daughter's high school opened up the auditorium and everyone watched the women's hockey game on the big screen. Smartphones, usually frowned upon during school hours, were front and centre as she and her friends madly tweeted and Facebooked and Instagrammed and Tumblrd the game.

Our hard-studying daughter seemed pleasantly surprised that her school administrators threw caution to the wind and allowed hockey to take precedence over academics. She spoke for hours about what it felt like to be in the stands, surrounded by a buzz that her already-spirit-filled school had never quite felt before. Her voice bubbled with excitement that she had experienced something so memorable.

I told her this experience was something she'd keep with her for a very long time. A touchstone, a warm moment she'd be able to call up anytime she needed a happy. History. And in her young life, being part of something that's bigger than she is, that connects her to a larger whole - students, friends, community, country - is an incredibly powerful learning experience that more than justifies the few hours of classroom instruction that she missed this week.

Today, her team - indeed, our country's team, because we all feel this team, this game, belongs to us - will either win or lose. And as we fill our darkened living room with pillows, comforters, a confused dog and a stready stream of coffee, snacks and tension, we aren't just watching a mere game. There's nothing "mere" about it. And we'll hold the powerful memories of this day with us for as long as we're capable of remembering.

Go Canada. And thank you - to the team, to those who've won just as much as those who have lost, to the country cheering from the sidelines and from far away - for teaching my kids how the world is supposed to work.

Update - 9:20 a.m. - It's over. Canada beats Sweden 3-0 to take the gold medal. The rest of the country can now go back to sleep. Well done, team. I think what matters more than the fact that they won is how they won. Consider my kids inspired. Everyone else, too.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Congrats, Carmi!

Carmi Levy said...

Thanks! All I did was cheer from thousands of miles away. Gotta love how events like this can pull a country together.

Michael Manning said...

Carmi: Congratulations to your fine women's bobsled team. Kaillie Humphries is not only a competitor, but a friend of our lead driver, Elana Meyers and there was good celebration for all!