I’ve been watching hockey games – many thousands of them – since I was five years old when my father started taking me to the old Arena Rink in downtown New Glasgow in the mid-1940s.
I’ve loved the sport ever since.
It’s a beautiful game to watch, whether played by the smallest novices in our local rinks, by competitive juniors and seniors in leagues across our province and country, or by the world’s best in the National Hockey League.
I couldn’t begin to estimate how many exciting moments I’ve enjoyed – in rinks large and small – and in front of the big screen in the living room.
I love baseball. I love football. I love almost every sport there is. It’s no wonder I’ve enjoyed being around athletes and athletics all my life. I wouldn’t trade my career for anybody’s.
But back to hockey.
What a great sport, for participants and spectators. As Calgary Flames executive Brian Burke says in an NHL commercial, it’s the hardest sport in the world to play, yet it offers drama and excitement for everyone.
Like most aspects of life, however, even a game as fine as hockey can have bad moments. Ugly moments even.
Take what occurred recently in Trenton during a Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League game between the Pictou County Scotians and Glace Bay Miners.
A Pictou County player, Luke Spicer, was seriously injured in an incident with Glace Bay’s Jordan Breen.
I wasn’t there, but it must have been a very unsettling time for everyone present when Spicer was taken from the ice, rushed to the Aberdeen Hospital, then transferred to Halifax.
Word got out quickly that the Pictou County forward, a student at St. Francis Xavier University, had suffered brain injuries. That alone indicated he had very serious problems.
It wasn’t the first hockey incident of its kind. It won’t be the last.
The seriousness on this occasion was magnified by the news that the New Glasgow police department’s major crime unit was investigating. You don’t hear of police involvement too often. Hockey is normally left to govern itself.
Through my years in Pictou County and the decades since, I’ve seen a number of frightful events on the ice. They’re hard to watch. They’re hard to understand.
But they happen.
Sometimes it’s the result of crushing bodychecks. Sometimes it’s the result of a high stick or elbow to the head. Sometimes it’s a freak accident on a very innocent play.
When you have a sport as fast as hockey – and those players are moving at a terrific rate out there – mishaps occur.
Regardless of circumstance, regardless of the cause, they’re all hard to witness.
Hockey Nova Scotia, through the influential leadership of its executive director, Darren Cossar, has put a lot of attention on discipline in an attempt to lessen the number of incidents in the sport. It has helped.
But you don’t wipe out such a problem easily. Incidents still happen.
From what I’ve read since the game in Trenton, it wasn’t surprising that a long suspension was handed out – and handed out quickly.
Breen being banished for the whole season and playoffs is another sign that hockey officials labelled this event extremely serious.
There has been some encouraging news on his recovery but, from the comments of team officials and other sources, the young fellow has a long way to go to full recovery. The fact he’ll miss at least the first semester of his studies at St. FX is another indicator that he was very seriously hurt.
One report in the media said Luke has been suffering from bleeding in his brain in two areas. In addition, he has had swelling and bruising on his brain.
Right now, a return to hockey is not one of his priorities. Hopefully, though, he’ll get back to action at some point.
Through my newspaper career, I’ve always tried to emphasis the positive in sports. I’ve always attempted to look at the good things in sports, the good people involved, the triumphs they have.
Ironically, this week’s column was going to address a pleasant change in the hockey telecasts we watch on Saturday nights – the return of personable Ron MacLean as chief host on Hockey Night in Canada.
I was happy with the news he would return to where he belongs.
In my opinion, we had enough of George Stroumboulopoulos in that spot. Now I can stop trying to spell his name correctly. Or pronounce it correctly.
Oh I know, George – that’s easier to spell – is a talented person, no question about that. He was good at humour, he was good at interviewing personalities one-on-one. But he just didn’t fit into a sports broadcast.
MacLean, on the other hand, is a true, hockey-loving guy who has been a big plus to the sport for a long time.
Speaking of him, I liked the promotional ad that was being run repeatedly on sports telecasts for the past few weeks – even though I like TV commercials as little as anyone.
In Ron’s words: “Saturday, it’s going to be a good day; always is. Because of all the games played during the week, the one played on Saturday night is a special one. This is the story of a love affair between a country and a game. You want to try to teach someone about Canada, you go to a television on Saturday night and it becomes crystal clear. This is hockey night.” MacLean’s return to the lead role makes Hockey Night in Canada even better.
Meanwhile, not very often do I change a column subject just hours before my filing deadline, but I just couldn’t let the incident in Trenton go by without comment.
So let’s just hope events like that don’t keep happening, don’t keep marring a beautiful sport.
Even more importantly, let’s hope Luke Spicer has a speedy and complete recovery.