Game Game

Ice hockey: Canada’s ‘religion’

Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens — whose team nickname roughly translates as “holy sweater” and symbolizes the religious-like fervour with which Canadians view the game © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / Minas Panagiotakis

MONTREAL, Canada, Apr 7 – The deaths of 14 people in a collision Friday between a junior ice hockey team’s bus and a truck highlighted the powerful role which the sport plays in Canada.

Here are facts about ice hockey in the country:

-With more than 600,000 registered players in a population of 37 million, hockey is more than Canada’s national sport. It’s almost a religion in this North American country where the game was born.

-At the end of the 19th century, Canadians laid the foundations for the sport: skates, ice, a stick and a puck — the hard, round object used for scoring.

-Initially improvised on frozen rivers or lakes, the first indoor rinks appeared around 1870 in Quebec and Montreal, where the first organized game took place in 1875 between two teams of nine players each.

-The first clubs quickly formed and in 1892 Lord Stanley, the governor general — the Queen’s representative in Canada — decided that a cup should be given to the best team.

-More than a century later, the Stanley Cup is still awarded each year to the winner of the professional North American championship, held by the National Hockey League (NHL), which for decades has included more teams in the United States than Canada.

-Although the sport has become an international phenomenon, firmly planted in the US, Russia and Scandinavia, it continues to occupy a special place in its Canadian birthplace.

-Ice hockey — known simply as “hockey” in Canada — officially became the national sport in 1994. NHL matches are followed by millions from coast to coast. Televised Saturday night broadcasts have for years been billed as “Hockey Night in Canada.”

-A Scotiabank study found that more than 150,000 Canadians are volunteers helping with amateur hockey teams and, from the biggest cities to the smallest Arctic hamlets, the country has more than 2,500 rinks.

-This passion is certainly a form of devotion. Supporters of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens do not hesitate to climb the 300 steps of a church overlooking their city to pray for the victory of their team, nicknamed “Sainte-Flanelle,” which roughly translates from French as “holy sweater.”