It's A Canadian Thing
Hockey, and skating in general, are part of the Canadian culture. No matter what your skill level, age, language or any other variable, hockey breaks barriers down and unites us all through sport.
What has lead to this? Could it be the leading number of 9 gold medals in Olympic hockey? Is it the some 275 outdoor rinks in the city of Montreal? Or is it having the longest outdoor skating rink in the world in Ottawa? Whatever it may be, hockey flows through the veins of Canada.
Michael Gamamons - A Love Affair
As Mike laces up his skates, he strikes up a conversation with one of the guys in the dressing room. He cracks one of his funny, yet super corny hockey jokes, “Je suis allé voir le barbier. Je voulais la coupe….Stanley!” Mike’s endearing and easy going attitude make him a lot of fun to play with, despite only having discovered the great world of hockey two seasons ago.
“Je suis allé voir le barbier. Je voulais la coupe….Stanley!”
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, a young Micheal Gamanos found himself immersed in America’s greatest past-time – baseball. He, like most of his friends, got engrossed in the game; playing not only in organized leagues but also after school just for fun. In little league, Mike excelled as a pitcher. He recalls that, as a kid, he was never exceptionally talented at sports, but one of his greatest talents was that he always practiced harder than most. This, in turn, was one of Mikes greatest talents.
“I was never really talented at sports, I just really worked hard at it.”
In high school, Mike joined his school’s cross country running and track teams. He was very good at long distance and crosscountry running, and became his team’s captain. Even into University, Mike found sports to be a big part of his life. He joined a couple intramural teams and played pickup basketball and football – between parties.
As Mike travelled the world after graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder, he found that he was not only a social chameleon, but also a man of many sports. In Nigeria, for example, everyone played soccer. Mike, who had little experience with this game, immediately adopted it and played almost every day. When he came to Canada, Mike experienced something similar with skating, and later, hockey.
“The first time I went skating was with my Dad in Prospect park in Brooklyn. We rented skates and just went skating.”
Travelling to Montreal, Canada, Mike decided that he would again adapt to the culture surrounding him. Although he was only here for a short week, he decided that he would go skating at a different rink around the city every day. Mike’s first time skating was at the age of 7 with his Dad in Brooklyn. Since then he had gone a few times with his Mom at indoor rinks in Connecticut, but nothing was like skating outdoors in Montreal’s cold winter. The first place Mike went skating in Montreal was the Old Port of Montreal. He recalls that this was the largest surface he’d ever skated on; extending beyond the small center pond and onto the river itself. It was a magical experience, and the beginning of a love affair.
Years later, Mike moved to Montreal, married and has a kid. He met his wide ironically at the Old Port rink. The first time Mike played hockey was in the winter of 2014. His brother-in-law gave him a stick and took him down to the local rink. Despite being one of the weakest players on the ice, Mike rekindled his love affair. He took it upon himself to develop his skills and become the best he could. Since then, Mike has improved his game and started to play at higher levels. He’s even joined some semi-organized adult leagues!
“I get nervous when I go to play hockey. But when I finally do it, all those emotions turn into pure bliss.”
Mike has not only found a deep and profound connection with hockey on the ice, but off the ice too. He loves watching the Montreal Canadiens, and doesn’t miss a game! Hockey has become his favorite sport to watch; he admires the respect that players have for each other, and finds the paucity of goals makes the game that much more exciting.
Although he sometimes wishes that he’d started to play hockey earlier in his life, Mike is continually excited about improving his play so that maybe one day he can share his love for the game with his son, Jake. He’s hopeful that Jake will like the sport and that he can coach him throughout house-league and create ever lasting memories with Jake on the ice. He plans to get his little man on cheese cutters come next year. Mike is currently playing at indoor leagues around his house, and is forever looking forward to next winter when he can play outside again!
“I’m so glad I was able to pickup this sport latter in my life.”
Growing Up [With Hockey]
Cheese cutters. These were my first skates. They were strapped onto my feet as I kicked and screamed. My parents had one motto: make them try every sport until they’re old enough to know they don’t like it. I’m truly glad they did this to Jeffrey – my brother – and I. Nearly 20 years later, hockey, and skating in general occupy a large part of my life.
Hockey has always occupied a large part of my time, especially during the winter. With pond/lake hockey at the cottage, and organized leagues in the city during the winter months, and ball hockey during the summer month. As kids we were all trying to be the next great NHL player and as the games played on TVs and radios around the house, we watched our favourite Habs player pass, shoot, and score.
When I was 5 years old, my parents put me into Power Skating at our local arena; a program to teach young kids how to skate. At this young age, I didn’t realize what I was getting into and was very against the idea of my parents abandoning me with strangers for a couple of hours. The tears soon faded away as we were taught how to become strong, fast, great skaters; this was Power Skating. As our skills improved with age, we had to move onwards and upwards to the world of house league and inter-city hockey.
The competitive world or hockey starts with house league hockey. Players are put into levels based on their age, starting with Novice, then working their way up through Atom, Peewee, Bantam, Midget, Juvenile and Senior. For those players that are good enough, there is also Junior level for those 21 and under, which include leagues such as the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). These junior teams often feed into the AHL (American Hockey League) and the NHL (National Hockey League) and are highly competitive.
House league hockey is a great way to get to know all the other kids in your community through sport. There’s no hitting in these leagues, and everyone’s there to have a good time. Inter-city teams start to recruit the top players from these house league teams. These were fiercely competitive leagues; especially when your friends were on the opposing team! From inter-city level teams, players feed into either school teams, or into higher-level, Hockey Quebec league teams; you could only choose one. There are many other organized and non-organized leagues that exist however. Many of these leagues come from school hockey. In Montreal, athletic leagues such as the GMAA (Greater Montreal Athletic Association) governs 96 elementary schools, as well as 53 secondary schools.
Montreal is an exceedingly hockey rich city, playing host to the most successful National Hockey Team: the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs’ colors flow through the veins of the city, as evident in the playoff season we’re currently in! The Montreal Canadiens are one of the Original Six, and since their founding in 1917, have won a record 24 Stanley Cups. Many of the greatest players in the game have played for the Canadiens, from Maurice “Rocket” Richard, to Ken Dryden to Jean Béliveau to current day Carry Price – to name a few. The Canadiens are part of the Montreal community and continually give back to their devout fans. Since 2008, the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation has invested over $8 million in its BLUE BLANC ROUGE program. This program aims to bring better rinks to the less advantaged areas of the city. So far, they have been successful in creating 6 full sized, refrigerated, multisport rinks in Montreal. These rinks have special piping under the ice to keep them cooled and at the perfect temperature, even when warmer air arrives. Each rink has its own dressing room, and utility hut for a Zamboni. These rinks are always busy, bringing together people of all ages and skill level to play together. There are specific times for recreational skate and for hockey so every can get a chance to enjoy these great ice surfaces!
During the winter months, Montreal turns into any hockey enthusiast’s fantasy. During the fall months, parks around the city slowly transform into fields with boards waiting for cold weather to transform them into ice rinks. Montreal has roughly 275 of these free public outdoor hockey rinks during the winter. There’s no lack of organization either; the city takes care of clearing the snow and resurfacing the ice. Updates on the rinks’ conditions are continually updated to Montreal’s dedicated ice conditions website. Naturally, along with these rinks comes a little competition. While many love to play pickup hockey with the local skaters, there are larger Pond Hockey tournaments that are organized. These tournaments bring together teams from all over North America for some friendly 4 on 4 competitions. The World Pond Hockey Tournament, an annual international event, is held in New Brunswick, Canada.
For those who seek a little more organization, and a league that lasts more than a weekend, arenas can be rented out. These “leagues” are often referred to a “beer leagues” as they tend to be a group of guys that get together on a weekly basis to play hockey and drink beer. There are, however, official versions of these leagues. Participants can pay a seasonal fee to join a league and be placed onto a team. There are many resources for people looking to join these types of leagues.
For those we have a love for hockey, and not the cold, there’s an alternative; ball hockey. Originating on the streets, playing with the neighbors, this sport has evolved into seriously competitive leagues that play around the year. Similar to beer leagues, these ball hockey leagues are sometimes put together by organizations that help connect fellow ball hockey enthusiast into teams.
Overall, Montreal has no lack of hockey. From the number or outdoor rinks during the winter, to the various leagues, to playing host to one of the greatest teams in the NHL, Montreal has hockey running through the veins of the city. Looking back at some of my fondest memories as a kid, it’s always been those involving hockey that stand out for me – from flooding the rink to playing with my cousins. Playing hockey under the stars is one of my favourite things in life. There’s a particular peacefulness to it that I’ve never experience in my life; the dead of winter on the cold hard ice of the lake at my cottage; nostrils burning; breath visible; fingers and toes frozen. The moon and stars watching from above as the floodlights illuminate our game.