Digging through my childhood closet, I pulled out an old wooden hockey stick. A relic of the past, comparable to the modern aluminum and fiberglass sticks. The model was the Titan 2020, an iconic brand for hockey in the 1980’s used by the legend himself, Wayne Gretzky, at his peak and record setting years. I remember my father got this stick for me for Christmas. He used to tell me; this was one of the ones used by Gretzky himself. I do not know whether I ever believed him or not, but being the hockey enthusiast that he was, I would not be surprised if he found a way to get his hands on an original.
Gliding my hand over the hockey stick, the wood smooth, the paint still holding decades later, with a few rough spots where the hands would slide, and the puck would collide. The hockey stick has been made from many materials and has worn many brand names over the decades, but its shape remains elegantly the same. Holding this antique, you can almost feel the roaring of passionate crowds during hockey championships but also the exciting shouts of kids playing on ice in their backyard on Christmas day.
The origin of the first hockey stick is traced back to Nova Scotia in the 1830s. The Mi’Kmaq, a First Nations people indigenous to Canada made the first sticks when they created hockey, made from birch trees. The blade was flat, until curved sticks were introduced in the NHL in the 1960’s. This became the standard as most modern hockey sticks maintain a level of curvature on the stick. In the 1990’s sticks became manufactured from aluminum, and now fiberglass and carbon fiber, making the sticks extremely light but strong and extremely flexible, withstanding pressures that would have easily broken a wooden stick (Eide, 2019).
The Titan Hockey stick was the instrument used by Wayne Gretzky during the peak of his career playing for the Edmonton Oilers. During the 1981-1984, Gretzky set multiple records including most goals during one season and total team goals. Wayne Gretzky is considered one of the greatest hockey center players of all time. This made his brand of gear extremely popular among Canadians for years, becoming common in many households (Cowan, 2013).
Hockey holds a unique place in Canadian culture, becoming more of a religion in every way than a simple pastime. In a country of over 30 million people that is commonly divided over language, politics, and culture – hockey is that one unifying force that brings people together. With each generation, Canadians grow up with their unique experiences of hockeyMany Canadians played hockey at various levels, with the sport becoming so iconic that a scene of children playing hockey on a frozen pond can be found on a Canadian $5 bill. Children are introduced to hockey from a very young age, learning to skate and hold a hockey stick soon after they learn to walk. The sport has been described as “its own national drama” and a “dance of life” along with “hockey means everything, and it means way too much at the same time” (Keating, 2010).
Despite the social importance of hockey and the hockey stick as a symbol to Canada, it is also a stereotype. It presents almost an unhealthy obsession of Canada with the sport. The hockey stick has been used as a symbol, embedded into slang through various means, and even used as a tool in many ways because so many households in Canada owned one. During the 2020 pandemic, the hockey stick became a figurative and literal representation of social distancing. Various signs across Toronto mention that the recommended distance for social distancing is approximately the length of a hockey stick – “the most Canadian thing ever” (Bumbaca, 2020). Therefore, while hockey may be important to national identity, at many points in culture and everyday use, its symbols such as the hockey stick reach levels of absurdness – with the caricature stereotypes becoming more of a reality.
Bumbaca, C. (2020). To help aid social distancing, Canadians use hockey sticks — figuratively and literally. USA Today. Web.
Cowan, S. (2013). Gretzky’s sticks: From Koho to Titan to Easton. Montreal Gazette. Web.
Eide, A. (2019). Sticking to the story. Seattle News. Web.
HockeyGods. (2010). Hockey stick used by Gretzky 1981. Web.
Keating, S. (2010). Hockey is more than a game to Canadians. Web.