Canada’s passion is hockey. While Parliament passed the National Sports of Canada Act which declared lacrosse to be “Canada’s National Summer Sport”, hockey is known as our Country’s winter sport. If you talk about passion though, lacrosse doesn’t come remotely close to hockey as the all year around National Sport and it’s been the case for decades. Just like in many aspect of our lives, Canadians can thank war veterans for the freedom they have to play and support the sport of hockey from coast to coast. What better than Remembrance Day to remind ourselves of the sacrifices our war veterans went through to not only provide us with our freedom, but their role in our National game.
World War I
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 40 Canadians who had ties to hockey passed at war between 1915 to 1918 in the First World War. It is important to note that the list is not reflective of all fallen Canadian hockey players who served, as no official count of hockey players was made upon enlistment. Memorial awards were created for many of these men, such as the Abbott Memorial Cup, to honour Edward Lyman Abbott, which was was awarded annually from 1919 through 1999 to the Junior “A” ice hockey Champion for Western Canada. As well, the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Trophy was presented annually from 1932 until 1971, by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and it represented the Eastern Canada junior hockey championship.
While not hockey related, Montreal is very familiar with the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, home of the Montreal Alouettes and the McGill Redbirds. Percival Molson is a war veteran who passed in July of 1917.
The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War. The cup was donated in 1919 by the Ontario Hockey Association. Since then, the format of the tournament to decide the winner of the cup has been altered a few times, but a key element remains: it is always a powerful symbol of remembrance.
At the 2010 Memorial Cup Tournament, held in Brandon, Manitoba, the championship trophy was rededicated to recognize Canada’s war dead from all conflicts. Veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War escorted the Memorial Cup in a touching ceremony that took place at CFB Shilo. It is now awarded each year to the junior hockey champions of the Canadian Hockey League.
World War II
During the Second World War, many National Hockey League players put their careers on hold to serve in the military. In Toronto, co-owner of the Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe (who had been decorated for bravery in the First World War) enlisted again at age 45. The Conn Smythe Trophy is handed to the NHL Playoffs’ MVP. Some players, like Maurice “Rocket” Richard, could not enlist because of injuries they had received during their hockey careers. In World War II, the number of Canadian casualties with ties to hockey reached around 50, according to Veterans Affairs.
Following the Second World War, the 1948 Winter Olympic Games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Many of the players on the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers hockey team, representing Canada, were Veterans of the war. Despite a challenging tournament, the men finished in first place. In 2000, the 1948 Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers’ gold medal win was selected as the ”greatest moment in Canadian Armed Forces sports history” and the team was inducted into the Canadian Olympics Hall of Fame in 2008.
During the post-war years, many military bases across Canada built rinks to allow soldiers, sailors and airmen to play hockey for recreational and training purposes. Not surprisingly, the old military-hockey connection has continued in more recent times. Hockey sticks are sometimes packed when Canadian troops deploy in conflict zones. For example, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where temperatures often reach 40°C, Canadian Armed Forces members built ball-hockey rinks. They played mostly at night, when the cooler temperature allowed for a faster-paced game. Former NHL players and celebrities like Guy Lafleur, Lanny MacDonald, Bob Probert and Don Cherry even went overseas to visit the troops, some of them playing exhibition games in mixed teams made up of hockey legends and serving members. But a hockey game wouldn’t be the same without referees, so former NHL officials were also on site to oversee the game!
Today, many NHL teams have special games to honour the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces. It is common to see professional athletes wear camouflage jerseys in warm-ups before those games and goaltenders sometimes play with specially-painted helmets that pay tribute to military members. Junior hockey teams design commemorative hockey jerseys, especially when playing in the Memorial Cup tournament. Ceremonial puck drops involving our men and women in uniform are held across Canada at all levels.
So on this Remembrance Day, take the necessary time to remember the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our beautiful Country and helped provide us with the freedom we are benefiting from today. It’s the least we can do. Lest We Forget…
Source: Veterans Affairs Canada