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Hammer, Sickle, Puck, and Stick

I have long had a fascination with the Soviet Union and, in particular, Soviet sport.  As a child of the late Cold War period, I was certainly aware of the dominance of many Soviet teams and athletes.  They appeared disciplined, focused, and absolutely invincible.  As a Canadian and a dedicated hockey fan, I was made very aware – and, I believe, at a very young age – about the glorious Canadian victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. My knowledge of the Miracle on Ice came later, but by that time I knew that a victory over the Soviets was both very difficult and exceedingly rare. While the political and ideological aspects of Soviet versus US/Canada rivalries escaped me until much later, there was always something different about matches against the Soviet Union.  There have been few times I have been as nervous watching a sporting event as I did in 1987, as the NHL All Stars narrowly defeated the Soviets in a three game series, and any competition against the Soviets was something “special” – and, not always in the most pleasant of ways.

Still, there was always a deep respect for the Soviet teams and players that accompanied the fear of them. Many friends and family would tell me about the skill and abilities of Soviet players, even as they passionately rooted against them. As a goalie, I knew about Vladislav Tretiak even though, by the time he retired in 1984, I had only seen him play on a handful of occasions.  When I was a teenager, in fact, I got to attend a goaltending camp in Edmonton with Tretiak and, later as an undergraduate exchange student in Moscow in 1997, I got to meet with him for nearly two hours – which, to this day, is one of my most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my life.


However, as much as there was an admiration of Soviet teams and players, they always seemed to be dismissed when it came to recognizing their impact, accomplishments, and legacy.  Only a handful of Soviet players and coaches are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, for example, with some commentators – particularly in the Canadian sports media – dismissing the accomplishments of Soviet teams.  However, it appears that Soviet hockey is being looked at again, in large part because of two recent documentaries.

Both Red Army and Of Miracles and Men re-examine the development of Soviet hockey, looking at the players and people who made the Soviet team nearly invincible (For the record, I have not seen Red Army. Hopefully, it will be available here in South Carolina sometime later this year).  Of Miracles and Men, one of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series, does a magnificent job of humanizing Soviet players and understanding the major challenges they faced as individuals and as a team.  Perhaps more than that, it makes the viewer realize both how remarkable those Soviet teams were, but just how awful it was at times playing in the environment that many of them did – with unrelenting coaches, administrators, and political pressure.  From my vantage point, it is one of the best of the 30 for 30 series – and, it appears that it is available to watch on line for free for a limited time (seriously, it is fantastic!).

Perhaps one of the questions to ask, particularly from a heritage perspective, is why there is a renewed interest in Soviet hockey at this time?  Some of it may simply be that the passage of time has made revisiting this past contextually interesting, and that the archival material – not to mention the players – are more available than they were in the past.  We are nearly a quarter century since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (has it really been that long?), and there may also be a sense of nostalgia for the team and the rivalries – and, perhaps even for the geopolitical certainty of a defined “enemy.” Perhaps some of it may be tied to material culture – seems that Soviet kitsch never goes out of style.  Maybe globalization plays a role, in that places like the Hockey Hall of Fame are welcoming more and more international visitors who wish to see their heritage represented. However, I think more than anything, there is a realization that hockey’s heritage narrative was simply incomplete; that, perhaps like talking about baseball’s history without mentioning the Negro Leagues, the Cold War era narrative in hockey was, at best, reductionist and, at worst, reviled.  We are a little more attuned (I hope) to jingoistic nationalism (certainly re-watching the 1972 Summit Series, I realized just what jackasses many of the Canadian player were) and that understanding the “enemy,” not as a faceless robot, but as a human being with hopes and dreams and aspirations might be a mark of our maturity.  In any event, it is wonderful to see that the Soviet hockey story is starting to be revealed, as the recognition of it is long overdue.

Sport Heritage on the Radio

Last Friday, I talked sport heritage on The Jason Strudwick Show on TSN 1260 Radio in Edmonton, Canada. Jason is a former National Hockey League player, having played over 600 games for several teams – including the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks – before retiring in 2012.

Jason and I talked a bit about The Sport Heritage Review website and how I came to be involved in sport heritage.  We discussed the transference of sport heritage from one venue to another, a topic discussed in several research papers including Belanger’s study about the Molson Centre in MontrealGammon and Fear’s study of the tours of Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and my study (along with Gammon and Huang) of borrowed heritage at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. On more of a nostalgia front, Jason and I briefly reminisced about our shared hockey past, as we were teammates in minor hockey about 25 years ago.  It was a fun chat, and I hope Jason and I get to gabbing again sometime soon.

In any event, the interview is about 15 minutes long and in two parts. The links for each part of the interview are below.  Happy listening!

Part #1(Interview begins at approximately the 43 minute mark)

Part #2 (Interview continues for approximately 10 minutes at the beginning of the hour)


Canadians Abroad: Thoughts on Hockey Gold

Watching Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s gold medal hockey final yesterday, someone on social media commented (and, forgive, I’m not sure who it was) something to the effect that “how did we watch sports before Twitter?”  Indeed, part of the fun of watching the men’s final on Sunday was the connecting with other Canadians on social media, particularly as many regions in the country amended their liquor laws in order to allow bars to open for the early-morning game. One Edmonton-based commenter even made the comment that Twitter was like one, big Canadian pub during the game:

Having lived away from Canada for nearly five years now, moments like Sunday – and, to an extent, Thursday’s women’s gold medal hockey game (unfortunately, I was teaching during Canada’s comeback versus the US and couldn’t watch the game) – help me to maintain a connection to my home country.  I certainly don’t hide my national identity down here in South Carolina, but normally my accent gives me away and I often end up talking about the Homeland with grocery clerks, waiters, and gas station attendants.  Certainly, I’m proud of my citizenship, though as the years go on I do feel myself becoming less attached to Canada.  Moments like Thursday and Sunday were a nice reminder of my heritage.

Perhaps most surprising to me was that I actually cared as much as I did about the result of both games.  I grew up playing hockey, have long been an avid hockey watcher, could quote stats and hockey history, etc, though – for a variety of reasons – I have drifted away from the sport in recent years. In the sport tourism class I teach, we talk often about globalization and mobility, and how these things can create – in a sense – a crisis of identity.  If I were pressed, I probably care more about baseball and cricket right now than I do about hockey, and maybe that’s both a part of my current address as well as my personal/professional tastes and interests.  Certainly, I quasi-follow college football and the NFL now because of where I live.  However, the space-time collapse of things like social media meant that I could engage with my Canadian hockey heritage, even if only for a few days, and share something of the experience of being back home.  In many ways, these interactions with my fellow Canadian hockey fans re-enforced my sense of identity. At the same time, neither hockey game – nor the Winter Olympics, for that matter – was really on the radar of most people in Clemson (beyond ex-pats and Olymphiles, I suppose) so my sense of nationalism was somewhat limited to the virtual space and time created on Twitter.  I suppose this would have been the case with or without Twitter and global broadcasts of sporting events in real time, and maybe the fact that watching the Olympics isn’t as all-encompassing as it was in previous generations re-enforces the globalization and mobility argument.  After all, we can disengage or ignore something like the Olympics ways that we never could before.  Still, the real-time feel of Twitter helped me feel a little more connected and a little more Canadian, but anecdotally it would seem that it was just we Canadians (where ever we might be) talking to ourselves.

Latest Research – “Heritage Sport Tourism in Canada”

I am very pleased to announce the publication of “Heritage Sport Tourism in Canada” in Tourism Geographies. The manuscript was authored by Tom Hinch of the University of Alberta and myself, Gregory Ramshaw of Clemson University

From the abstract:

The objective of this paper is to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of heritage sport tourism by examining (1) the Arctic Winter Games and (2) the Canadian Football League as heritage sport tourism attractions in Canada. A review of the heritage sport tourism literature provides the context for this assessment. Key opportunities were found in (1) the manifestation of sport as a meaningful form of culture; (2) sport’s impact on collective identity and by extension – destination image and (3) unique connections of sport heritage to place that can be positioned for competitive advantage. The central challenges include those associated with (1) processes of globalization and (2) the fragmented nature of the heritage sport tourism industry. 

A limited number of copies are available for download from this link

An additional note – this manuscript was, in part, a tribute to my dear friend and colleague Rod Murray.  Rod was an brilliant scholar and amazing person, and there isn’t a day that goes when I don’t think about him.  He is well and truly missed.  Peace and much love, my friend. No Pain. 

Scholarship and The Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League (CFL) season begins this weekend and, despite it is lengthy history and strong ties to Canadian identity and heritage, there is surprisingly little scholarship about the CFL – and, I suppose I’ve always wondered why this rich source of material has generated so little attention.

If you are unfamiliar with Canadian football – and the CFL in particular – there are sources of background information. There are a few key points, however.  First, it has been around for a while – in various guises, mind you – and pre-dates the National Football League (NFL) in the US by quite a distance.  Secondly, though it looks quite similar to NFL/American football, it has many rule variations – such as one fewer down, a wider and longer field – that make it a different game to that which is played in the US.  It also has a quota system for Canadian players – so, teams must field a certain number of Canadians rather than simply employ plentiful (and cheap) American talent.  Finally, the championship game/trophy – the Grey Cup – will be awarded for the 101st time this season and is one of the country’s most beloved Canadian sporting traditions, adding to the whole history/heritage dynamic of the sport and league.

The CFL is also a bit of a cultural marker for many Canadians, as the game’s differences are, perhaps, part of a microcosm of Canadians’ impressions of themselves vis-a-vis the US.  To wit, to the untrained eye, Canadian football and American football are the same.  However, there are subtile differences in the Canadian game which makes it unique and distinctive from its American counterpart.  These distinctions, emphasized through some CFL marketing slogans such as the This is Our League campaign, have positioned support for the CFL as a form of nationalism.

I can’t claim to be a CFL expert by any means, but it is surprising that there hasn’t been more written about the CFL.  In academia, I only know of a few history/sociology/geography articles that deal with the CFL (though, I am sure there may be others).  This paper, in particular, is cited frequently in interdisciplinary sport scholarship, as it deals with history and sociology (not to mention heritage’s cousin, nostalgia).  There are some popular coffee-table-esque tomes available, a few memoirs from past players, coaches, and commissioners, and there’s even a self-published (and, from what I understand, thoroughly researched) history of the CFL – but, remarkably little else from what I can tell.  From my vantage point, the CFL is really ripe ground for budding sport researchers of all stripes.  I am certainly trying to incorporate aspects of the CFL into my own teaching and research. I use the CFL in both my sport tourism and heritage tourism classes at Clemson and, in a forthcoming paper in Tourism Geographies with Dr. Tom Hinch from the University of Alberta, we look at the Grey Cup festival as a type of heritage sport tourism.  It is a source that simply provides some really good, and very relevant material.  Yet, it is largely ignored…and I don’t know why.