In the fall of 1988, I was starting the last year of my B.A. at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, B.C.). My major was in English, and by that year I had added a minor in Communications, which is where I met two professors, Martin L and Richard G, who later became my advisors for my Master’s thesis, which I completed in 1994. That fall, the two of them were team teaching a course they had just developed called: “Hockey in Canadian Popular Culture.” For someone born in Montreal and who ate, slept, and breathed hockey, I thought I had died and gone to heaven (or, its atheist equivalent)!
A few years later, I was doing some sessional teaching at the Center for Canadian Studies and was informed that Martin and Richard would not be teaching the “hockey” course anymore. I was then asked if I would like to take it over, as it had become a very popular class. I am not sure if it’s possible to die and go you-know-where twice for the same thing…But there you have it! From 1991-2008, I became known as the “hockey prof,” teaching this course two semesters a year on campus. A few years later, I created an online version and the study guide for it.
Before continuing, I want to disabuse you of the idea that this must have been the typical “bird” course, which In Canada means “a course that is regarded as particularly easy.” It wasn’t, but it took a few times teaching it to convince all the “jocks” from the football team, basketball team, etc., that if they were looking for an easy “A,” this was not the place for them. I remember walking into the lecture hall the first time I taught the course and saw that the entire back row was filled with very large men with no necks. When I started to lecture about hockey, symbolism, community, and hegemony, they all filed out, never to be seen again! The following is the blurb from my course syllabus: “The game of hockey is perhaps the most central and pervasive from of popular culture in Canada. It has been called the ‘tie that binds,’ the ‘common passion,’ and the ‘Canadian game.’ This course seeks to create a critical understanding of how hockey’s significance extends far beyond the ice rink into the cultural, economic, and political spheres of Canadian society.” Some of the themes covered in the course were: Canadian community and regionalism, the organization and industrialization of the game, media representation of the sport, violence and hockey, and hockey and gender. All of this was in aid of recognizing that hockey is not an isolated element of the Canadian way of life, but that its significance extends throughout the culture and commerce of Canadian society. Now, teaching a course like this in Canada, and in a city with a hockey team, brings with it a certain “notoriety” that is at first welcomed, but it starts to wear a little thin after repeated requests from the media to comment on this, that, and the other thing a little too often. But at the beginning…
Well, it was nice to be recognized!
My hockey life started early. I learned how to skate when I was four or five and started playing organized hockey at around 12. There was a brief hiatus from the sport in my twenties as the lure of skiing beckoned, but by the time I was in my early thirties, hockey made a comeback into my life as I began to play “Oldtimers’” hockey, reaching my peak, so to speak, in my forties and fifties playing as often as three-four nights a week! I finally “hung them up” in my early sixties, mostly because my body was screaming at me! As you can imagine, I have many fond memories from my time spent playing and watching the game, but one that I will never forget comes from my time playing in a “league” in Vancouver, which was really a group of about 24 guys playing every Wednesday night, called the Hamburger Hockey League (HHL)! (I took the photo, so not in it).
All of which brings me to the title of this piece: “I Do.” One Wednesday, one of the goaltenders (Ty), a temporary replacement for one of our regular goalies who was away for a few weeks, was planning a big surprise at the end of our ice time. He had invited his girlfriend to come play that evening (at the time she was playing hockey for the University of British Columbia’s women’s hockey team, meaning she was a better player than all of us combined!), because he was planning to propose to her after the game! There are, of course, a wide variety of unique locations that have been used for “popping” the question, including public proposals during sporting events as you can see below.
But I feel that you would be hard-pressed to find evidence of a mid-ice proposal between two hockey players, especially a forward and a goalie!
In case you’re wondering, the guy dressed in street clothes (red jacket) is Manuel, and he was the arena’s Zamboni driver, and was in on the set up. A few minutes before our ice time was to expire, the end boards opened and he drove out with the Zamboni (fitted with a cushion that had the ring box on it), which was our cue to make our way to center ice. This was all planned out before we took to the ice, and because the fiancée-to-be (Amy) was getting her gear on in a separate dressing room, she had no idea what was going on, and a bit surprised by the abrupt end to the game! By the way, she said yes!
I was still teaching the course mentioned above at the time, and one of my former students, who had taken the class a year or two prior to this event, had become a Wednesday night regular and was present for this special evening.
The reason for bringing up the course again is because I often included on my reading list books of poetry about hockey. In fact, at one point I may have owned the largest collection of poetry books about hockey…This is unofficial, of course! One of these books, Hero of the Play by Richard Harrison (1994) was one of my favorites, and when he was doing a book tour for this title, I was able to invite him to my class to do a reading. The marriage proposal came a few years after this, and since we kept in touch after his reading, I sent him the proposal photo and simply said: “You need to write about this!” Several months later, I received the following:
A Mid-Ice Proposal — Richard Harrison
– for Irwin Shubert, and for Ty and Amy
My friend Irwin sends me a photograph and a suggestion – Write about this, he writes, you should write about this. It’s a photo of a man asking his girlfriend to marry him at center ice after a game. Both teams are there; too, standing in a ring, the man on his knee, which is trickier to do than you think on skates, even when staying upright is the only thing in the balance. They’re all in their gear, and the wet, good smell of play is on them. Even the Zamboni is there, started up and parked behind, so that in the photograph its flank could be the wall of the home they’ll one day buy if all goes well starting now. Write about this because this is about hockey, my friend says. Yes, hockey.
Hockey is here. Hockey is everywhere in this country. At the Folk Festival last weekend, after protest songs against George Bush’s war, hockey was the most popular topic. Stompin’ Tom waited until the end of his set to give us “The Hockey Song” he knew we’d waited for all night, then introduced “Hockey Mom” – a tune to correct the lack of a hero yet unsung. Before him, the Homer from Philadelphia raised his voice in melody to praise Dave Schultz, whose fans came to their seats wearing Nazi helmets, and charged the boards with their iron heads when The Hammer beat down some scofflaw who, knowingly or not, got what he deserved in the fearsome system of Flyer justice in its day. You, see? All the great questions are covered by hockey – birth and death, life, and song, and here, on a beer-league rink in B.C., in that Delphic circle where length and breadth intersect and the puck’s first fall defines the game, for the word we ask of love.
These days, hockey has become more of a passive pastime for me, which means occasionally watching it (more so in the past than present) and remembering and writing about it.
Los Angeles 2022