There's nothing like hockey at its roots

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The sport of hockey has taken a beating over the last few years.

Much has been written about the decline of the game. Toss in last year's NHL lockout and major changes in the rules and our sport has been buffeted about with the intensity of gale-force winds.

After such buffeting, it's always nice to go to back to a sheltered, comfortable place.

Lambeth was that place Monday.

Lambeth wants to be Hockeyville. On Monday, it made its case to be selected as the community that best represents hockey in Canada.

Kraft and the CBC are combining to produce a series of features on communities in Canada where hockey is a big deal. The communities will be profiled during the NHL playoffs and the winner will get, among other things, an exhibition NHL game in its town.

For all the money, glitz and hoopla around professional and high-profile hockey, there is nothing like hockey at its roots -- fed by the pride, hard work and the unselfishness of people who make it work at its most common level.

Communities are proud of their hockey roots, their teams and heroes. Lambeth, Exeter, Lucan, Ilderton, Dorchester, Byron and thousands of others have hockey traditions ingrained in their background. A community is identified as much by its hockey tradition as its name.

So before going on, an apology is extended to Byron and the Ramages. Knowing former NHLer Rob Ramage for as long as I have and having written as often as I have that he's from Byron, we can only apologize profusely for saying Ramage is from Lambeth. Who knows what happened from brain to fingers in yesterday's story, but the Ramages are quite proud of being from Byron.

It's that fierce loyalty and identification with hockey roots that is the essence of the sport in this country.

As the NHL muddled through last year's lockout, one of the expressions heard most often was that hockey was part of the fabric of this country. Most people assumed that to mean the NHL because of the league's profile and visibility.

The true fabric of hockey in this country is woven by communities such as Lambeth and their continued dedication to it.

Most of their players won't make the NHL and for the most part, their success will be known only in their community or league. Their satisfaction comes from knowing they provide a vital component in the growth of young men and women. Or from seeing their teams perform well and play in championships. Or from seeing their arenas filled with the locals who come out to support their teams.

This whole Kraft Hockeyville thing can be written off as superficial, commercial and fluffy. But what it represents is real and ingrained in Canadian society.

Several hundred Lambeth residents waited almost an hour in the cold and windy so they could wave, cheer and hold signs for a CBC camera crew. As they waited, some played street hockey. The crowd included minor hockey players, parents with children who play or used to play, men and women involved in minor hockey and wanting to support the endeavour, and adults who live in the community and are still attached to the game or the feelings it breeds.

A minor hockey tournament and the CBC helped fill the arena. While games were going on on the ice, volunteers sold homemade baked goods to raise money. Kids were busy playing some form of floor hockey and young children were having the speed of their shots registered with a radar gun.

It's a scene that will be repeated in hundreds of other communities in the weeks and months to come.

Welcome to Hockeyville Lambeth, Hockeyville Byron, Hockeyville Lucan, Hockeyville Exeter, Hockeyville Dorchester . . . .


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