United Nations of Hockey
When I look back on the hockey team I played for as a child I realize how typically Canadian we were. I certainly didn’t know it at the time; we were just kids playing the best game in the world; but we were a microcosm of Canada, a mosaic of players brought together by the game that has defined our nation.
I don’t even recall noticing our cultural differences. Sure some of our parent’s spoke with accents, but that really didn’t matter; we were a team… hockey players… Canadians. On a team that represented an area of Toronto no larger than a few city blocks, we had players of Greek, Portuguese, Iranian, Jamaican, Japanese, Polish and British ancestry. You could call us the United Nations of hockey and united we were.
We were a group of kids from differing backgrounds and ancestries who were not divided by our differences, but instead bonded by our similarities. It’s not that we ignored our individual countries of origin, we respected them while embracing what so many Canadians before us had embraced: the game of hockey.
There was one particular tournament when we traveled as a team, by bus, to Detroit. The boys huddled in the back, the dads up front. Now it isn’t a short drive to Detroit, probably around five hours, but on that bus, with the team, time flew by. We watched movies, listened to music and had a great time. I remember getting to the border and the guard coming on board the bus. “Everyone on here Canadian?” she asked. The guard probably thought it was a simple question;- a group of fathers and sons doing the most Canadian of Canadian things: traveling to a hockey tournament; but the truth was, we had eight naturalized Canadians with us on that bus and the answer was yes, we were all Canadian.
The next day when we arrived at the arena for our first game of the tournament, I took a minute to look at the other teams in our division. There was a team from Finland, one from Switzerland, American teams from Florida and Detroit and us, the Canadians.
The format of the tournament was simple, you play each of the other teams and the team with the best record at the end of the four games would be declared champion. We started out matched up against the team representing Florida. Our captain, Luis, led the way. He was a big defenseman, solid in our end and able to take the puck from one end of the ice to the other with ease. Luis’ parents had come to Canada not long before he was born, his father owned a successful Portuguese restaurant downtown and he would often cater our team parties. Luis scored twice in that first game and we knocked off Florida 4-0.
That afternoon we were up against the Swiss team and this time our star was the speedy winger we called “Boom Boom.” Boom Boom’s real name was Omar. He was one of the most natural athletes I’d ever seen. He was the star of our school soccer and basketball teams; and despite coming from Iran, a country as far away from hockey as any in the world, only two years prior, Omar was the best skater on our team. Some of the dads said Omar looked like Guy Lafleur flying down the right-wing, when he scored on a slap shot over the Swiss goalie’s shoulder in the first period. That goal got us going and we didn’t look back, beating the Swiss 5-1.
Every team needs a comedian, a guy who keeps everyone loose when the stress is mounting. For us, that player was Ian MacLachlan. Ian had a knack for cracking the entire dressing room up just when the pressure seemed to be too much to take. He also had a knack for scoring key goals at the most important times. Ian wore number ten for us in honour of his dad’s hero, English soccer legend Geoff Hurst. In the third game of the tournament, against the host team from Detroit, we were locked in a 2-2 tie when Ian was awarded a penalty shot. Ian made a great fake to the goalie’s glove and flipped a backhand into an empty net. We hung for a 3-2 win and would play the undefeated Finnish team to decide the tournament champion.
Our goaltender, Jason, was by far our best player. Jason was the son of a Jamaican minister who had fallen in love with hockey when he arrived in Canada just weeks before Paul Henderson’s Summit Series winning goal in 1972. Jason was calm and quiet, his father was just the opposite and he was undoubtedly our most vocal fan. The deciding game of the tournament gave Jason’s father plenty to be vocal about. Jason made several remarkable saves that kept the game scoreless through two periods. In the third period, we managed to squeak a power play goal past the Finnish keeper. It proved to be the only goal of the game. Jason was awarded tournament MVP, having allowed only three goals in four games; and our captain Luis, hoisted a large trophy that to us, may as well have been the Stanley Cup.
We returned to Toronto as champions, a medley of Canadians that had come together to defeat hockey teams from three different nations. Led by our Portuguese captain, our Iranian star, English comedian and Jamaican goalie, truly, the Canadians were victorious.
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