CALGARY — While Canada has grown as a country over the last century, so to has it evolved as a hockey nation. Hockey Canada is marking 100 years of overseeing the sport domestically and producing teams for the world stage.
Just a few weeks after Canada entered the First World War, a group of hockey executives met in Ottawa on Dec. 14, 1914, to establish the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.
Hockey runs like a bright thread through Canada’s timeline since then. The sport intertwines with pivotal events in the country’s history.
Many a Canadian soldier left the ice for the battlefield in both the First and Second World Wars. Many of those who returned continued to play or took on leadership as coaches and administrators.
The same year Canada celebrated its centennial in 1967, the CAHA established its first national head office in Winnipeg.
A year later, the CAHA became Hockey Canada with the mandate to manage Canada’s national hockey teams as well as develop the sport across the country.
Hockey Canada will release the book "It’s Our Game" on Tuesday. The 399 pages of text and photos commemorate the last 100 years of the country’s triumphs, failures and dramas in hockey.
"For me, the first 100 years, the legacy has to be our culture and how hockey has played a huge role in the fabric of our people, of our country, of our reputation world-wide," Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s president and CEO, said Monday. "I think we’re deeply respected for our ability to play the game, to lead in terms of its development both domestically and abroad.
"Beyond that, I think Canadians as citizens are looked at globally as being very special people and I think hockey’s had a lot to do with the development of those values."
As the birthplace of hockey, Canada took on the role of world leader in it. But it’s been the response to crisis that’s helped the country continue to claim ownership of it, Renney said.
Canada may have won the 1972 Summit Series, but adopting some of the off-ice training methods of the former Soviet Union was necessary lest Canadians fall behind. National hockey summits were held when it was felt the sport was sliding off the rails.
"I think Canada and its population are a humble people," Renney said. "I think hockey gives us an opportunity to sign our work if you will on the national and international stage as being very, very good at it.
"That being said, I think the times we have tripped up have been very good to us. Because of that humility, we’ve embraced failure quite honestly and made ourselves better."
"It’s Our Game" (Viking, $39.95) is heavy on Canada’s performances at world championships and Winter Olympics in the century’s first half. It also incorporates the off-ice intrigue and skulduggery between countries during those early tournaments.
The book expands in scope in the second half of the century when women’s hockey rose in profile and sledge hockey emerged alongside the Paralympic movement.
Hockey Canada’s mission heading into the next century continues to be increasing participation in the game while also producing players for the sport’s highest levels.
Hockey Canada, with its headquarters now in Calgary, has just over 640,000 registered players, almost 100,000 coaches and another 32,000 officials.
"What makes us special is we’re able to connect the dots from discovering the game in the first place and having a great deal of fun playing it, but also making an opportunity for people to follow one of two streams," Renney said.
"Play the recreational game for a lifetime and have an awful lot of fun doing that and still be the doctor, the bus driver, the lawyer, the teacher, whatever the case may be, but great Canadians, or you can find a way to play professional hockey with all those same attributes but make a living playing the game. I think that’s what really separates Canada apart from other countries."
The recent emphasis on player safety and concussions are the issues linking the end of Hockey Canada’s first century with the start of the second. The advent of the hockey visor gets its own chapter in the book.
"The protection of the player through equipment has come a long, long way obviously," Renney said. "You can look at the photos of years gone by and just see how much protection they have now compared to back then.
"The rules of the game and how they’re called are important, but of late especially, the attention to player safety is at the forefront from the little people in minor hockey all the way up to the National Hockey League. That’s quite significant."
Renney was named head of Hockey Canada in June after 16 years with Bob Nicholson at the helm. But Renney was also involved in the organization as a coach, on and off, for the last 22 years while he also coached in the NHL.
He was head coach of the Canadian men when they operated as a full-time team back in the 1990s. Their shootout loss to Sweden in the gold-medal game at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, is one of the hockey heartbreaks chronicled in the book.
The ’72 Summit Series, the 1987 Canada Cup, the Canadian junior team’s runs of golds and the women’s pitched battles with the U.S. are among the highlights.
"There are so many. The ’72 Summit Series was a watershed moment for all of us," Renney said. "We all understand where we were and what we were doing at that time. The ’87 Canada Cup was incredible with respect to the winning goal and how that whole series was played.
"There’s been many, many more. One hundred years is an awful long time and for those of us who are kind of historians of the game as well and dig into the past so we can help identify with the future, it’s awfully tough to come up with one or two."