OTTAWA

The Canadian senator who ranted in the Senate about American hockey

Richards: 'Tragically, Canadians are often forced to listen to American play-by-play commentators' who say deny instead of save, and jersey instead of sweater

David Adams Richards, the 67-year-old Canadian senator from New Brunswick whose writing has earned him Gemini awards, a Giller Prize and the Order of Canada, rose in the Senate on May 1 to express his opinion on a matter of profound interest to most Canadians: that Americans are ruining hockey, and Canadians shouldn’t fall for it. This is Richards’s full statement.

Honourable senators, since it is playoff time, I decided to speak about hockey. This statement is humbly called “Hockey Games U.S. play-by-play commentators have utterly ruined, which is never mentioned by those who have contracted our playoff games out to NBC or ESPN networks and which Canadian commentators have been silly enough to imitate,” or something of that sort.

Long ago and far away, when I was a boy, we wore hockey sweaters, not hockey jerseys—reference Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater here—and we never sat in locker rooms. Some of us never saw a locker room before Grade 10. “Dressing rooms,” they were called. And we didn’t have a half wall. What would that be? We had boards, and we got penalties for boarding, not half-walling. We didn’t deny a shot; we actually saved it. We didn’t delay at the blue line; we stopped at the blue line. Nor did we take a wrister. What an insulting word. We took a wrist shot. Nor did we take a slapper. What an insulting word. We took a slapshot—and not the movie. And none of us from about the age of six months on ever needed a laser beam to follow a puck. And we didn’t talk about, “He moves up there now and is swinging to and fro,” or this: “He makes a luscious pass right there,” or, “He takes a real good knuckler.”

No, my friends, we knew the motion of the ice and talked about “dipsy-doodling” and “swallowing the ice,” and the player never took a “slapper off the half wall,” but there might have been a “scintillating slapshot.” Sawchuk made “fantabulous” saves, not “fantabulous” denies. And no U.S. commentator can speak about “magical mittens,” because most of them never saw a mitten. But I have actually heard them say, “He loops it in like a real good dunk.”

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These odious phrases are all momentary inventions by American play-by-play announcers who have never played or understood the game, and worse, almost sacrilegious, have no respect for millions of Canadians who do understand and love the game. Sayings now adopted by Canadians who have no sense of tradition. The first thing lost is the game’s essential genius.

Tragically, Canadians are often forced to listen to American play-by-play commentators if we want to watch U.S.-based teams in the first or second round.

I know, my fellow senators, that all of this seems petty, but nothing is petty about our game, nor the language we used to illuminate it. Our language enhanced and enriched every aspect of the play because our commentators actually knew what was happening on the ice.

Our language was pure and didn’t deny or lessen the greatness of the game because we wanted to sell it to an audience who didn’t understand its greatness, so had to be convinced about golden goals and shootouts, and informed about the language of basketball and rules of European soccer.

That, to them, makes it all legitimate, and Canadians will most often lose a shootout because they know the game should be won the way it is played and last as long as it takes.

We now allow this into our homes as if being Canadian and recognizing false emotion and verbal idiocy doesn’t matter; but, you see, with hockey, everything matters. We have not won a Stanley Cup in Canada since 1993, and 75 per cent of our best players reside in those U.S. locker rooms.

When Boston won the Cup and Vancouver rioted a few years back, the Fox News commentator Shep Smith told his adoring U.S. audience that Canadians rioted in Vancouver because “our U.S. boys” beat them in hockey.