Ok so I spent time in Canada and was struck by the locals (everywhere!) passion for hockey. I watched schoolboys from Oakville and semi-pro’s from Thunder Bay; the same. High tensile, testosterone-fuelled balletic brutality cheered upon by parents or truck drivers psychotic with feeling. Equivalent, absolutely, to our footie. Wayne Gretski and Mario Le Mieux (if I remember correctly) were godlike – Rooneyesque – in their pomp. I watched Canada v USSR in a university campus bar and nearly suicidally cheered for the Soviets, such was the volume, magnificence and crassness of the home support. But man they meant it; this was the lurid expression of something powerful and wonderful as well as daft and politically dubious.
Now an appalling number – does the number matter? – of fellow hockey people have been wiped out; in Russia. A sort of Busby Babes echo – only more multi-nationally devastating – reverberates, for now even this hard-wired northern sport has ‘gone big’ and gathered in players from distant lands. Thus in a city we know nothing about (Yaroslavl) a spectacular pool of A list skating talent has been cruelly wasted. Lost too a Canadian coach – Brad McCrimmon. And inevitably cruel worries will begin to gnaw, about what immediately should have been done and what, more broadly, consists airline safety policy in the region.
But having loved Canada’s heartiness, through the depths of several feet of snow, in fact; through the clatter and skid and bawl and body-check of hockey games; despite the absurdity – perversity even – of this link, I feel sad, deeply sad to hear of this loss. And I imagine and I think I hope that my soul brothers and sisters in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan are, at least in their minds, laying wreaths for their Russian friends, for the 11 foreign players, as well as the teams Canadian coach.