It is a legend born out of the distant frozen north. Ancient as the ice sheets which remained in the summer-long day, yet renewed each season as the great sea swelled with new life and nutrients. It was the heartbeat of the north, announcing the coming and going of the winter-long night. The tribes that inhabited the land could not say where the story began, they only knew it had been passed down, seemingly forever. The story went something like this.
The masters of the great ice ocean were and always have been the great Polar Bears. Full grown males weigh in at 770 to 1,540 pounds. Their ladies only half that size. These great beasts do not sleep the winter away, unless the individual is a pregnant sow. No, the great white hunters are active all winter long, wandering the ice-encrusted world under a sunless sky. A bit lonely, one would think. Possibly even boring. So what does a bear with a full stomach and no parental duties do in the dark?
That’s where the legend comes from. You see, once Polar Bears have full stomachs they can be a rather jovial bunch. Males are not adverse to, well, playing together. It was something that started in a small group, just two or three bears, in friendly competition. Who could pounce the deepest hole in the ice to catch a seal? Who could break up the ice to hunt down a good swimming spot to find a good floe? In all the exercise someone noticed that large chunks of ice traveled well on the sea ice and it was interesting to see who could hit it furthest. The competition grew.
So it became an annual affair. After the sun has slipped below the horizon for its winter absence, out would come the champions of the prior year to defend their title and find new ways to compete on the open sea ice. Some years could be a bit lean and if so, well, tempers were not quite as jovial.
Not so far to the south of bear country was another roaming animal, a great beast of nearly the same weight. This one, however, sported great antlers build in wide paddles with massive force when applied in rutting battles. Of course these huge racks would drop before the winter chills descended on the tundra. Somewhat, well, denuded, solitary males wandered the winter tundra for something to do to keep in shape while on a reduced winter diet. The ruckus raised by bears apparently doing battle drew the attention of some of these solitary souls.
What had first sounded like a fierce battle now appeared as something quite different. There were pouncing bears, rolling bears, bears digging holes in the snow, and bears throwing or scooting ice. As the dehorned beasts watched, a large chunk of ice landed at their feet. The bears stopped and looked intently at the newcomers.
Now, you need to understand that under certain circumstance, bears have no problem helping themselves to a dinner of moose. So, for such an event as our legend to take place, everybody had to have very full tummies and no concerns about continued resources. But this is how the story goes.
The moose kicked the ice chunk back.
And so the great and hallowed spirit game of Hockey was born.
Now you know why even when the great northern country brought the ancient legend to the ice rink of 20th century human settlements, it wasn’t a game until their southern neighbors were invited to join.
A bit of a jab at my dear friends north of the border. After five years in Canada I can tell you that Hockey is far more than a sport in the great white north. Even more than “football” in American, it is a cultural icon.