Longtime New York Rangers announcer Jack Filman was once asked the origins of the word "hockey." He replied that it was from an aboriginal word, hoghee, that meant, "it hurts!" Hockey history is full of such myths, and the purpose of this blog is to take a closer look at them and discuss the surrounding historical issues. (BTW hockey probably originates with the French word, hoquet, which referred to the hooked shape of the sticks used to play similar stick-and-ball games.)

The Prime Ministers and Hockey

The National Post had an article about politicians accepting complimentary tickets to hockey games, which has probably been going on for over a century by now.

The first reference I ever found to a PM attending a game was in Mackenzie King's diary. As I recall he was complaining that Viscount Byng didn't invite him into his box at the Ottawa Auditorium one night when the Ottawa Senators were playing. I'm pretty sure King didn't actually enjoy hockey, but I have no evidence of this, other than the fact that he lived in Ottawa for several decades and the word "hockey" only appears in his diary a dozen or so times. From the time of Baron Stanley, hockey was more of a vice-regal activity it seems; Minto, Byng, Tweedsmuir and others were big fans.

I'm not sure if RB Bennett ever attended any games, but he did give a few bucks to youth hockey teams during the Depression, among his many other donations (see Grayson and Bliss, The wretched of Canada : letters to R. B. Bennett, 1930-1935)

Conn Smythe liked to get the PM to open the season and Maple Leaf Gardens. From his papers, it seems Louis St Laurent couldn't make it most years (I'm sure it was because Smythe was a Tory and caused the King cabinet grief during the war). As soon as Diefenbaker got in, he was right on the ice the first chance he had after being elected in 1957. Dief the hockey fan is there is all his jowly glory in this great piece ("God is Canadian") about the eighth game of the 1972 Summit Series.

Mike Pearson played hockey at Oxford and continued to be a fan but since Smythe never forgave him for replacing the Red Ensign, I'm pretty sure he never dropped the puck at MLG , after 1965 at least (yes, I suppose I could check). I, on the other hand, haven't forgiven him for recommending that hockey be suspended during World War II. (I don't disagree that a strong case could be made to suspend, but Pearson's main argument was that the Americans might be offended if it continued. He didn't seem to realize they were enjoying their hockey just as much as Canadians were....)

Pierre Trudeau was often at hockey games in Montreal, and made sure to make political hay after the eighth game of the 1972 series. I forgot the game was played in the midst of the federal election campaign of that fall, after which the Liberals were reduced to a minority government. Brian Mulroney was often at games (before he was PM and certainly after), and you can catch him in the footage of the '72 series as well.

Clark, Turner, Campbell, Chretien, Martin - no thoughts.

I have read several places that Harper is writing a book on hockey, which I would have to say would probably make him the biggest hockey fan to sit behind the PM's desk (unless Ken Dryden makes the cut). The best article about Harper's hockey writing seems to be Red Fisher's interview, although the New York Times was also interested. (Confirms their stereotypes of "Canooks" I'm sure.) I am curious about Harper's take on Toronto hockey, if and when it ever appears. Fisher at least needs to be educated about how the Canadiens really survived the 1930s and 1940s, and it wasn't about "bringing in the right people" as much as it was kicking out some other people - namely the Montreal Maroons.

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