Hockey Night in Canada Song contest winner Dave Gunning.

Hockey Night in Canada Song contest winner Dave Gunning.


Saturday, January 18: CBC’s annual “Hockey Day in Canada,” an entire day’s worth of programming on our national broadcaster meant to celebrate Canada’s national winter sport and an attempt to further entrench the game of hockey in our collective psyche.

Hosted by the City of Lloydminster, the CBC went to great lengths to expose some of characters whose heart and determination represent the values that Canadian hockey fans have been taught to identify with. And amidst it all were the sounds and sights some Canadians were familiar with: the crisp sound of skates carving ice on frozen rinks and ponds in a small town, united by their love of the game.

On the third game of the day-long broadcast, the Vancouver Canucks, led by two highly-skilled but soft-as-silk Swedish brothers, faced off against the once-dominant but now lowly Calgary Flames. Just two seconds into the game, thanks the poor coaching from both teams, a line brawl broke out that saw eight players receiving game misconducts and 204 penalty minutes before the game was over.

Over the next few days, pundits and armchair critics in coffee shops across the country debated who was at fault and whether this kind of blatant violence should be banned from the game, one thing became clear: this is not your grandfather’s hockey.

Yet the CBC would have you believe otherwise. They are still, even with major media outlets like NBC and Rogers making billion-dollar plays for the rights to show NHL games on their networks (and subsequently make billions in profit from the advertising rights), trying to convince fans that hockey is a game best experienced on those frozen ponds. And they have even added a soundtrack: “A Game Goin’ On” is the recent winner of the Hockey Night in Canada Song Quest: The Search For Canada’s Next Great Hockey Song Competition. Performed by Pictou, Nova Scotia songwriter Dave Gunning, the song is a simplistic Celtic-influenced acoustic track that lauds a game of shinny on a frozen pond.

The problem is that the song, in all its jingoistic glory, tries to recreate one of the more global sports as one specific event; as the CBC would have you believe, if you were never privy to shinny on a frozen pond, the game is now not yours to experience. For his part, Gunning’s song is catchy enough. And he abided by the classic rule: he wrote what he knows.

Yet the CBC has shamelessly played on the willing emotions of a devoted and obedient nation, just weeks before the Olympics. By abiding in a dated version of the game, the CBC has missed out on the opportunity to evolve as the game of hockey has.

“A Game Goin’ On” compartmentalizes the beauty and diversity of the game and, with CBC’s endorsement, a thick line in the sand is drawn (or, a proverbial red line is widened, if you will): the CBC has created a mythology of the game of hockey and is telling Canadians how to best experience the game instead of letting one develop organically. It’s as narrow-minded a move as endorsing a hip hop anthem for basketball or a twangy country song for football. These are the associations many make without thinking twice and should be moved away from, not endorsed.

You don’t need to look much further than Canadian author Dave Bidini’s fantastic look into hockey around the world, Tropic of Hockey, to see how far hockey has evolved past frozen ponds. In the 2001 book, Bidini visits China, Transylvania and the Middle East to discover hockey and its characters in some of the most unlikely places, traditionally speaking. “A Game Goin’ On” is a last-ditch effort by the CBC to stake claim to a game that Canada lost long ago.

For his part, Gunning told BeatRoute that he’s not concerned that a “A Game Goin’ On” forces an appreciation of the game and instructs new fans how to best experience the game.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a song,” he writes in an email.

“The song seems to move people emotionally and creates a feeling of nostalgia even if they don’t necessarily play or even follow the game,” he adds. “Last year, I toured Australia and it even got a great response there.”

You can’t fault Gunning, for his love of the game seems genuine enough. It’s not his fault he was introduced to the game as he was: “Growing up, we had a pond in the yard and we’d always have little games with friends and neighbours.”

Yet, the CBC is to where many turn for all things hockey and reinforcing this narrow view of the world of hockey is prohibitive to young, hockey-loving minds. To show them that the game of hockey has stretched beyond their comfortable backyard pond might create a more aware hockey-playing nation in the long run.

The CBC, in trying to force an experience upon a nation and purposefully embed it in the nation’s cultural psyche, may be trying to reinforce traditional Canadian values. Yet as a nation who often seems content to adopt the collective underdog spirit, we may need to look beyond the pond on this one.

By Joshua Kloke

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