Frozen in time

Canada's History - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

My home­town didn’t have a hockey rink. And so I learned to play Canada’s game on my grand­par­ents’ pond.

Granny and Grandpa lived in a cen­tu­ry­old farm­house in ru­ral Nova Sco­tia. The pond was lo­cated be­hind the house, shel­tered by an ap­ple orchard and a copse of birch, alder, and spruce.

Af­ter my barn chores were fin­ished, I’d lace up my hand-me-down skates and then hit the ice. Usu­ally, I’d pre­tend to be my idol, Guy “The Flower” Lafleur, the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens sniper. Grow­ing up in the Mar­itimes, most peo­ple cheered for ei­ther the Habs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, or even the Bos­ton Bru­ins, a ves­tige of the re­gion’s his­toric ties to New Eng­land.

With the moon and stars light­ing the ice, I’d deke and weave among the cat­tails that poked up through the frozen pond — tak­ing care not to fall into the hole my fa­ther had chopped in the ice ear­lier in the day so that our cows could be wa­tered.

I’d ri­fle slap­shots at the makeshift net I had cre­ated out of my toque and mit­tens, imag­in­ing that each shot was the goal that cap­tured the Stanely Cup. (With­out boards, though, the puck would usu­ally ca­reen out of the pond and fly into a nearby snow­bank.)

Dream­ing of mak­ing the Na­tional Hockey League has long been a rite of pas­sage for many young Cana­di­ans. And, for a se­lect few, it was a dream come true.

The first NHL game was played in 1917, and yes, much has changed since then. Hockey is a big busi­ness to­day, with bal­loon­ing bud­gets fu­elled by tele­vi­sion rights and mer­chan­dise sales.

But some things never change: Each gen­er­a­tion cre­ates its own he­roes, from the pi­o­neers of the sport, like “Babe” Dye and “Punch” Broad­bent, to golden age stars like Mau­rice “Rocket” Richard and Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe, to Wayne “The Great One” Gret­zky and be­yond. It con­tin­ues to­day: My nephew — him­self a great lit­tle player — sleeps each night be­neath a Sid­ney Crosby poster that’s pinned above his bed.

In this is­sue, we kick off the cen­ten­nial year of the NHL with a pack­age of sto­ries that re­calls some of the great­est games ever played, and we name the great­est player ever for each of the seven Cana­dian NHL teams.

Else­where, in this is­sue, we ex­plore what winter was like in New France, and re­live the heady days of the Klondike gold rush.

We hope you en­joy this skate through the past, and also that you take the op­por­tu­nity to lace up and hit a rink — or pond — near you this winter.

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