Comparing hockey culture in the U.S. and Canada

Game_of_pond_hockey_(Nova_Scotia,_2007)

(City of Toronto Parks Department)

Hockey is in Dante Thorn’s blood.

“I was born into hockey. I probably had a stick in my hand as soon as I could hold it and was skating at the age of two,” Thorn, the son of two Toronto natives said.

After moving to Los Angeles with his wife, Thorn’s father began to promote the sport of hockey in the Los Angeles area. He was heavily involved in local youth programs, founding and coaching for roller hockey leagues in Burbank and Sherman Oaks.

“[Hockey] is such an important part in my dad’s and mom’s lives because of the way they were raised and the culture that’s behind them,” said Thorn, who is currently in his first year at Cuesta College.

Although he was raised in Los Angeles, Thorn’s parents made sure he didn’t forget his roots. Despite being 2,000 miles removed from his parents’ country of origin, Thorn has been exposed to hockey culture through his upbringing and many visits to his relatives in Canada.

A Nation’s Sport: Hockey in Canada

“A typical day in Canada is driving down streets and having to wait for kids to move their hockey nets and get out of the street,” Thorn said.

Hockey has been ingrained into Thorn’s life, as it has for many generations of Canadians. The sport is a fixture in the nation’s identity. But having grown up in the U.S, Thorn has been surrounded by a different hockey culture.

“Most Americans that haven’t experienced hockey are a little ignorant to the subject.,” said Thorn, “they see it as just some brute, contact sport.”

Thorn even sees differences in how the players practice the sport. He noted that while Americans practice their stickhandling and shooting skills, Canadian players are looking at the smaller details of the game.

“You go to a hockey practice in Canada and they’re working on just where their feet need to be under their body,” said Thorn.

Below the border: Hockey Culture in the United States

Relative to Canada’s obsession, hockey culture is much smaller in the U.S. In 2011, hockey was ranked the fifth most popular team sport in the U.S, falling behind football, basketball, baseball/softball, and soccer.

Despite football reportedly being 40 percent of the nation’s favorite sport, the culture that surrounds the sport is nowhere near the treatment of Canada’s official national winter sport, hockey.

“I think that baseball in the 1950s would be the closest comparison,” said Omli, “where, especially in a post-World War Two era, there was a sense of patriotism that went along with baseball being the national pastime.”

According to Omli, hockey has traditionally been a niche sport in the U.S. However, in 1988, hockey drew much more attention. The legendary Wayne Gretzky had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

(Håkan Dahlström / flickr creative commons) After playing with the Kings for eight years, Gretzky played for the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

“The NHL got much more coverage,” said Omli, “there was star to follow, who had scored a hundred goals in a season and was doing crazy things.”

“I saw he had skates on and a stick in his hand and I wanted to do that,” said third year mechanical engineering major Josh DiMaggio, who credits that trade as what sparked is love for hockey.

The longtime LA Kings fan believes that hockey is becoming more and more popular in the U.S.

“Whenever I wear a piece of Kings’ clothing I always get a response, good or bad,” said DiMaggio, “hockey fans are very passionate.”

Fostering more passion

The NHL is constantly trying to increase the sport’s popularity in the U.S.

The league is looking to modernize its practices in order to, “forge a stronger connection with existing fans and attract new ones, as well as using technology to bring fresh perspectives to the game,” as NHL Chief Marketing Officer Heidi Browning told the Wall Street Journal.

Browning hopes to utilize new technology, such as virtual and augmented reality, in its social media and marketing to achieve this.

A Punjabi broadcast of NHL games has been hosted by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) since 2008, bringing hockey to a new community.

The announcers say the broadcasts are helping grow hockey — not only in fan interest, but also with Punjabi parents who have their children playing the sport now that they can watch and understand it on TV,” wrote Jim Caple of ESPN

This past February, the NHL had its “Hockey is for Everyone” month, which is dedicated to promoting inclusivity and diversity in the hockey community.

Teams hosted awareness nights, inviting minority groups and guests to promote the League’s message of wanting “to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities.”

For Thorn, hockey was ingrained into his childhood as a cultural fixture of his parent’s homeland. To others, the devotion is one of independent discovery.

Hockey, like many other sports, brings people of many different backgrounds together and creates lasting memories.

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