..."You can really see a lot of similarities between the attention paid to holy relics of the saints and spiritual heroes and the way Canadians, in particular, have treated their hockey heroes and the products they've created," said Denis Bekkering, a PhD candidate in the Wilfrid Laurier-University of Waterloo, Ont., joint program in religious studies.
He bases his theory on previous research suggesting Americans rally around the "unifying civic religion" of politics, including sacred places (Washington, D.C.), martyrs (Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy) and objects (the Liberty Bell).
Lacking this larger-than-life political mythology, Canada has built its collective religion around the rink, Bekkering says, and specifically around international competitions such as the Olympics, which turn a Team Canada jersey into a national talisman...
...Like any faith, the "national church" of hockey has its holy relics, or items believed to be imbued with the powers of the heroes connected to them, he said. From Paul Henderson's 1972 Summit Series jersey - which fetched $1.2 million at auction last summer - to the "Lucky Loonie" hidden beneath centre ice at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, where the Canadian men's hockey team netted the country's first Olympic hockey gold medal in 50 years, Bekkering said these relics are revered just like those in traditional religions...
..."It's a way to connect the state and politics to something transcendent," Bekkering said of this religion on ice.
But lest anyone think this makes National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman the Pope, he said NHL hockey doesn't work the same way traditional religions do. Team Canada provides a raucous revival tent where all Canadians can worship during events such as the Olympics, but NHL devotees are otherwise divided by the "tribalism" of the different teams they support, he said.
"When you have the national Canadian men's hockey team, it allows hockey fans and Canadians in general, to go above any tribal allegiances they may have to particular teams," he said, noting that a star such as Crosby literally sheds his usual tribal markers and trades a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey for a Team Canada sweater in international competition.
And while Montreal Canadiens' fans will spend the Stanley Cup finals wishing a hex on the Boston Bruins for eliminating their team in the first round, Bekkering said the factionalism of NHL hockey as a religion means there's no guarantee Canadians will cheer for Vancouver simply because they're the only Canadian team in contention.
"Tribal allegiances may actually keep many Canadians from supporting the Canucks," he said.
Bekkering presented his research this week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, hosted this year by the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University and expected to draw more than 6,000 delegates to Fredericton.
In Edmonton, home of the National Hockey League's Oilers, there is a debate going on as to whether the city needs a new arena and whether it should be built downtown ( in my opinion it shouldn't be built at all, especially downtown). The Oilers' owner, Darryl Katz, is a multibillionaire with no long-term commitment to the city (I have it on good authority that he's moving himself and his family to Victoria, British Columbia, hundreds of miles west of Edmonton), and someone who can well afford to build a new arena himself. Instead, he's trying to get federal, provincial, and local taxpayers--many of whom, including me, who can't afford to go to any events held at Rexall Place, the current facility--to pay for a new arena, to the profit of Mr. Katz. It's a matter of record that Mr. Katz has donated handsomely to the re-election of Mayor Stephen Mandel, and has been rewarded by having the mayor and many of the city councillors as his loyal puppets, while the voices of ordinary Edmontonians--none of whom, that I know, support this--count for nothing.
The corporate media have dutifully fallen in line in support of corporate interests. As evidence of the cult-like nature of hockey worship, check out the columns and blog posts of David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, especially those that deal with the arena issue. It's no coincidence that Mr. Staples' blog is titled The Cult of Hockey. Indeed, the mentality of Mr. Staples and those of his ilk are indeed those of the devotees of a cult--in this case, a cult that has a stranglehold on this city, if not the whole country. With these brainwashed people, the desires and interests of the cult take priority over everything else, and must be satisfied at all costs, including the extortion of financial contributions from non-members.