Hockey as a religion

The NHL Playoffs are coming. And Canada counts on the Habs. It’s a matter of faith! And it’s a great time to talk about hockey as a religion and to think about it means! (For more, read my book: Hockey as a religion. The Montreal Canadiens)

First level: Worshipping hockey as a religion

1. When it comes to the question « Could hockey be more than a game? », my answer is « Definitely yes! ». I met people whose personal, family and professional life is totally hockey centered.

Second level: Talking about hockey as a religion

2. It is very common to use religious metaphors in order to talk about hockey.

3. Most of them are borrowed from Christianity, but some come from Islam.

  • In hockey, miracles often happen; David can always beat Goliath; and sometimes goalies become Saviours, « Inch Halak! ».
  • Bad players go to the sin-bin whereas the best players go to « Le Temple de la Renommée ».
  • There are religious nicknames: Guy Lafleur is known as « Le Démon Blond », Patrick Roy as « Saint-Patrick » and Carey Price as « Jesus Price »; the Stanley Cup is the Holy Grail or « Le Calice d’Argent ».
  • And the Montreal Canadiens will forever be « Les Glorieux »; their jersey will forever be « La Sainte-Flanelle »; and, Montreal will forever be « La Mecque du hockey ».

Third level: Making hockey a religion

4. Sacralization and ritualization are two efficient ways to make something essential; hockey sacralizes, and hockey ritualizes:

  • Hockey produces relics: the puck of a young player’s first goal, the sweater of your favorite player, the ticket to a memorable game, etc.
  • Hockey produces rites: at the Bell Center, you have to boo Zdeno Chara, and sing «Nanana-nā nananā-na, hey hey hey, goo-ood bye»; elsewhere, you have to watch «Hockey Night in Canada» while sipping a beer and grabbing some chicken wings.
  • Hockey produces sacred spaces: the locker room and the team’s logo on the floor (« Don’t dare to walk on it! »); some parts of the rink: each half rink during warm up, both blue lines during the national anthem, the crease during the entire game.
  • Hockey produces sacred people: saints are the players whose sweater is risen high in the sky (or to the ceiling); sinners like the poor Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer; prophet like the former referee Ron Fournier; and Don Cherry is Lucifer, the one everybody likes to hate because he sometimes brings an embarrassing light.
  • Hockey produces sacred dogmas: a man you shall be! What kind of a man? A tough guy, ready to give your sweat and your blood to your team; or, according to the Habs motto, ready to hold the light even with your hurtled arms.
  • Hockey produces belief: The most certain is this one: One day, the Stanley Cup will return where it belongs: Montreal!

Fourth level: Introducing religion inside hockey

5. Things do not always happen how they should.

  • The same team with the same coach and the same players playing the same hockey can win comfortably one night and lose the day after against the same team with the same coach and the same players playing the same hockey.
  • The same goalie with the same stick and the same gloves, with the same physical and mental abilities, having slept the same night and eaten the same meal, can stop every shot one night and give bad goals the day after.

6. This could be because things happen randomly.

7. But it could be because the way things happen depends on « Something Else » or « Someone Else » with the power to change the way things happen.

  • There are different names to qualify this « Something Else » or « Someone Else » from « Les Fantômes du Forum » (Did the ghosts of the Habs’ best players move to the Bell Center?) to simply God(s) (whoever this God (s) is or are).

8. If this « Something Else » or « Someone Else » has an impact on the game, you could like having It/Him/Her on your side, playing with your team or, at least, cheering for your team.

9. That is precisely when hockey deals with this « Something/Someone Else » that it become, strictly speaking, a religion.

10. Some coaches, players and fans try to discover ways to please the « Something/Someone Else » in which/who they believe.

  • They perform special rituals in order to force It/Him/Her to help their team win.
  • Depending on which/who their « Something/Someone Else », they pray, paint a cross on their face mask, climb up the Saint-Joseph Oratory’s stairs on their knees, eat a bowl of rice before each game, talk to their posts, or always dress their right side first.

Fifth level: Thinking hockey theologically

11. Whatever you do or do not do, sometimes your team wins, and sometimes it loses, which demonstrates that:

  • Either there is no « Something/Someone Else »;
  • Or It/He/She does not have enough power to change the game;
  • Or It/He/She is not interested in which teams win the Stanley Cup;
  • Or It/He/She is not impressed by superstitious behaviours.

12. For my part I believe « It/He/She is not impressed by superstitious behaviours » is the correct answer. The God I believe in (also known as « the God of Jesus Christ ») is not impressed by superstitious behaviors.

13. But S-he is always ready to help those who recognize that s-he needs Him/Her. Those who ask for his/her help to become a better person, a better coach, a better player or a better fan.

14. For sure, with God’s help, not every coach, not every player, nor every team will win the Stanley Cup. But with God’s help, every coach, every player, every fan will be able to do their best and play their perfect game.

Sixth level: Evangelizing hockey

15. It is Christian people’s duty to convince coaches, players, and fans that they should believe in the true God and worship Him/She in the true manner: have faith!

16. And when it comes to convincing, Theologians can write papers, pastors can deliver sermons and churches educate in faith.

17. But Christian hockey coaches, players and fans can testify about their experience. That’s why they are most able to convince other hockey coaches, players and fans.

18. And every one shall leave every thing to God.


See more on TV. Context with Lorna Dueck: « Hockey: Canada’s Religion » (Also starring Don Cherry!)

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