Commentary  Life Lines: Going home to handle rink-side madness

“Like all madmen, I thought everyone was mad except myself.”

– Leo Tolstoy

That was me, sitting shivering in a Manitoba ice rink, gawking at people yelling furiously at the little skating figures and the piece of rubber they were hammering back and forth. I had returned home for reading week, leaving the academic oasis of McGill for a party in the prairies (which consists of seeing who can pee furthest off the town barn).

I had barely finished hugging Mom hello before they dragged me to the arena; my brother had a game. In Manitoba, somebody always has a game. Sure, hockey is a big thing all over Canada, but in B.C. you can also go skiing, go fishing in Nova Scotia, or go drinking in Quebec, and on it goes. In ‘Toba, if there’s no game on, there’s nothing on. Winnipeggers can seethe all they want, but they know that their Friday night is down the drain if there’s no game. Just be thankful you’re not in Saskatchewan, where it’s just mile upon mile of grass.

Anyway, when I arrive at the local skating rink, the atmosphere is deceptively mellow. Farmers in their flannels are sipping coffee and discussing the imminent return of Winnipeg’s ex-NHL team, the Jets, just as they have for several years. Mothers are scuttling after young ones, adjusting their toques and gloves. This is all about to change. Through the glass, the first players get on the ice, and older brother pride fills my chest as I see my little bro puck-handling smoothly around other guys. The moment doesn’t last; I’m swept away by a wave of people moving into the icy rink. My reserved just-got-back-from-university-I’m-well-Mrs. Jenkins-how-are-you facade disappears within seconds while I dodge flying coffee and yelling kids as everybody tries to fit through one door at the same time – the game is about to start.

I’ve often heard newcomers to Canada say, “I don’t mind hockey, I just don’t like the fans.” Athough they’re not quite like soccer fans (you’d be hard pressed to find a post-hockey game headline reading “Dozens Die After Foam Finger Massacre”), hockey lovers can get quite passionate, be it a professional or kids’ game. Thus the previously chilled-out farmers are on their feet in seconds, bellowing their approval of one kid’s pass one moment, and screaming unprintable things about the referee’s mother the next.

With my social psychology classes in mind, I wonder what prompts otherwise decent human beings to get so emotionally excited when their children hit a puck. That’s when I see him. My little bro. Number 19 waving on his back as he speeds out of the box. An opposing team member has broken away and is racing toward our goalie, black disc perfectly controlled by his stick; he is almost certain to get a shot off. Number 19 though, swoops out of nowhere, steals the puck from behind, skates around his own net, and heads into enemy territory. Puck-handling rapidly he looks for the pass, dodges one guy and finds it. He sends the disc sailing across the glassy ice, into the stick of a waiting buddy.

I’m on my feet. The entire arena is being made aware of what a brilliant piece of artful hockey just occurred in front of their eyes. I holler loud enough so my bro can know I saw and liked what he did, I also shriek at the bloody ref who almost got in his way. As I exercise my vocal chords, slapping a fellow supporter on the back, I notice a quiet gent walking into the rink. He sits down and stares up at all of us cheering, brows furrowed.

All this excitement and he’s just quiet, taking it all in? Must be mad, I thought.

Johanu’s column will appear next Monday, and every Monday after that. Send your prairie love to