Admittedly, hockey is a passionate pastime of most prairie towns. In Humbug, however, love for the game transcends passion; ascending to stratospheric levels of lust. This isn’t to say that a single Humbugger actually plays the game, at least as far as I ever encountered, but rather that male Humbuggers seem incapable of having a complete conversation without expressing some philosophical gem about the local team or the sport itself.
The local team was called the Humbug Hornets and played in some sort of inter-provincial league of small town teams. I found it most interesting that during my time in Humbug, not a single player on the Humbug Hornets was actually a born-and-raised Humbugger. In a town that didn’t spend a penny demarcating its downtown district and not much more on repairing potholes, I was amazed to find that funds had been raised to scout, recruit, transport, and board hockey players from as far as the Eastern United States.
These young men were not just the only outsiders openly welcomed to Humbug but they also garnered a position akin to royalty. They obviously monopolized the ice time at the local arena without paying a fraction of the fees charged to local figure skaters. Furthermore, they got exclusive use of the local aquatics centre at least twice each week and no fees were ever listed in the ledger for this privilege. Local businesses were expected to offer significant discounts to the young men who carried official team cards, and also to offer up advertising space in their front windows for team-related fundraisers and events. My decision not to offer the team discounts and advertising space was not well received to say the least, but I was very surprised at how critically I was treated for offering said advertising space to a local figure skating club.
Although every young male in Humbug had been cut from the competitive hockey leagues well before coming of age to be a Hornet, every Humbug father lamented endlessly about his boy’s lack of hockey talent and time spent in front of “that damn computer”. I once made the mistake of suggesting that they spend more time developing and recruiting local talent only to be rebuked by the Humbug men with the simultaneous retort, “And lose the cup?” I decided never to ask how, under such circumstances, they expected their sons to spend their time if not in front of a computer.
I couldn’t help but wonder what all these imported young athletes thought about Humbug. It had to be a strange experience to be recruited by some obscure prairie hockey team only to arrive in town and notice a few too many people looked just a little too much alike. Adding to the awkward and tactless demeanor of the citizenry would be the plight of being boarded with a family that praised the merits of a bland diet and lifestyle. There wasn’t even an arcade in Humbug because Humbuggers seemed to think that arcades were where ‘kids smoke the pot’. I wondered where, having no arcade to congregate at, young Humbuggers went to ‘smoke the pot’.
One day I overheard a couple Humbug men discussing the team as they happened to make mention of the team pastor.
“Team pastor?” I inquired.
“Yeah, Pastor Bob,” one of them said.
“I’ve heard of a team trainer and coach, but you don’t really have a team pastor, do you?”
“Of course!” they both exclaimed.
“That’s not really appropriate, is it?” I asked.
“What the hell do you mean?” one of them demanded.
“You don’t know all these kids that well. What if one of them isn’t really religious?”
“What do you mean, ‘not really religious’?” he further demanded.
“They might not be from religious homes, you know. You bring these kids from all over the country, board them in Catholic homes, and then start making religion a part of team policy. That might make some of them uncomfortable and it would be hard for them to say anything considering how displaced they might already feel.”
“It’s just for a team prayer before the game,” he explained, “and if anything that would make them feel more at home, don’t you think?”
“Not if they happen to be Jewish or Muslim,” I countered.
The men began to laugh hardily as they both exclaimed, “Jews and Muslims don’t play hockey!”
Once again I found myself completely astounded at how tightly the Humbug mind was confined to a ten mile circle of experience. I thought it best not to even suggest that any of the players might be from an atheist home but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the misfortune of one who might be. I felt fairly certain that there had to be laws against this sort of thing but chose not to pursue the matter. I hoped that, at very least, the talent of these young players would be appropriately recognized in a place where the sport itself was a form of deity.
I’m not a fan of hockey but have none the less unwillingly absorbed all too much critical analysis of the game from my father who has played and coached the game for decades. I looked forward to hearing what sort of analysis Humbuggers put forward about each game considering their extraordinary focus on the sport. I had expected to hear something like, “They need to get one of their left handed centers on the ice when the Colts play their second line – that left defenseman is weak.” Listening to Lyle and his brother, Mike, nearly sent me into laughter.
“What a terrible game,” Lyle lamented.
“Terrible game,” Mike harmonized.
“They just didn’t play 100%.”
“They never play 100%.”
“Really phoned it in.”
“Yup, totally phoned it in.”
“It was like they didn’t even play the second half.”
“They never play a whole game.”
“Those guys gotta start giving 100% for the whole game.”
“They’ld win if they gave 100% for the whole game.”
That was it. That was the best critique I heard of the Humbug Hornets the entire winter. Apparently the secret to winning in hockey is to give 100% for the whole game. I wondered what a team could accomplish if they gave 110% for the whole game. Such a team might even win two Stanley Cups in one season. Just imagine.
Regardless of how ridiculous a comment on the previous night’s game may have been, there was always some lackey harmonizing with even more ridiculous affirmations.
“Davies’ stick is just too damn long,” some idiot would observe.
“Yup, it stands to reason, don’t you know,” some lackey would agree.
“A stick shouldn’t be higher than the armpit!”
“Yup, it’s just common sense.”
“He just can’t stick handle with a stick that long.”
“Yup, anyone can see it, don’t you know.”
Over and over and over until I thought I was going to scream. Not once did I hear about screening passes or dumping the puck into the zone to avoid offsides. Matching centers to opposing lines or defensemen to forwards’ speeds was like quantum mechanics to these morons. I don’t say this as some sort of hockey guru, for I’ve never watched a game start to finish in my life. All that I know about hockey I picked up while playing Collecovision in the basement while my father screamed at the television upstairs. I wondered what the Humbug Hornets could accomplish if they practiced a little basic strategy, gave 110%, and played the whole game throughout the season. Surely they could be intergalactic champions if only they put these three things together. I can’t imagine just how much more they could accomplish if “Davies” shortened his stick.
I eventually learned why there were no local players on the team. One of the many quirky rules in Humbug was their concept of inheritance of accomplishment. In order to keep the next generation as stifled as possible, children were never recognized for having achieved much more than their parents. The greatest injustice of this rule laid in the way that dozens of otherwise very capable students were graded very harshly based on their parents’ delinquencies. As far as hockey was concerned, you could only make the team if your father had done so before you. All it took was one hack to eliminate an entire family line from the team, and thus the entire team had to be imported.
I have never been entirely opposed to organized sport but I have always favoured sports that were more inclusive than exclusive. Personally, I have no idea how anyone can sit around watching a sport that they don’t participate in themselves.
When I suggested to the Humbug men who sat around lamenting the shortcomings of the Hornets that they try playing a friendly game of street hockey to bolster community spirit in the team, they piped up with a list of ailments that ranged all the way from arthritis to erectile dysfunction.