by Dan Adkisson
To answer the question “How did the NHL become so big in Canada?” an even more relevant question comes to mind – “How did ice hockey become so popular in Canada”.
Your parents and even your more discerning grandparents and great grandparents would have a ready answer to that question — “it’s the weather”, without the irreverent “s” word.
Well, it sounds true and outright logical. After all, Canadians lived in an icy environment, forcing them to strap their feet on skates to protect them from directly touching the ice-cold ground.
In those days, a frozen pond or river also made a perfect place to shake off the cold by fashioning a stick and puck for a game that kept them outdoors until their toes turned blue. For sure, that was a better alternative than staying idly indoors gazing into a fireplace.
It would have been a different story altogether, however, if Canada’s climate was similar to a tropical country, like Tahiti or the Bahamas.
With that oft-repeated story explaining Canada’s affinity with ice hockey, we then proceed to the National Hockey League (NHL), which was originally founded in Montreal, Canada on November 26, 1917 with only four Canadian clubs – the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Arenas, and Montreal Canadiens.
Three years later, ice hockey was introduced as an Olympic event in London, where Canada captured the first of six golds, two silvers, and a bronze in nine stages of the quadrennial event from 1920 to 1960.
The Olympic monopoly was long enough for the sport to establish an indisputable hockey-centricity among patriotic Canadians despite the rise of new hockey strongholds in other wintry countries, specifically the USSR, United States, and Sweden that dislodged the Maple Leaf’s monopoly of the middle Olympic podium.
In the professional league, there are now only seven Canadian teams seeing action in the 32-strong league with headquarters in New York City, but nevertheless, with the rise of new online casinos and sportsbooks over the last two decades, anyone can check the best NHL odds in Canada and it’s a very hot topic of interest amongst the local fans.
But don’t let that confuse you. Almost half of the players seeing action in the NHL are proud Canadians.
The Montreal Canadiens, an original NHL franchise holder, and Toronto Maple Leafs are hands down the most popular teams from Canada, well-ahead of the other five Canada-based squads. They are considered the home teams and the most watched among Canadian fans – kids, teenagers, parents, and grandparents.
At age six or seven, Canadian children are expected to know better how to skate than ride a bike, if they cannot learn both at the same time. It is also a parental responsibility to invest in summer skills and coaching programs to help their children learn and practice the game of hockey.
It is probably a stressful childhood, but everyone needs to learn to skate and make it to the neighborhood league. If you cannot make the grade, then just drop out and be a fan, appreciating the game more. It’s a cycle and a battle of survival, where the fittest live on to pursue a dream.
The dream is to be the next Sidney Crosby, the hockey star everybody looks up to as “the greatest athlete of the 21st Century.” Or maybe Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Mario Lemieux. Funny, but all of them had the same dream as kids. They all wanted to play in the NHL.