It’s getting down to crunch time. With just about six weeks to go, contenders are jockeying for position, hoping to prevent the current titleholder from a repeat. Meanwhile, a handful of dark horses aim to make a run to the front of the pack, while a slew of veterans hope they’ve got enough juice left to make it across the finish line one more time. Soon enough we’ll know who’s in and who’s out, who gets the glory and who goes home empty-handed.
I’m speaking, of course, about the National Hockey League, currently in the stretch-run before the playoffs begin in mid-April. (What, did you think I was referring to something else?) After all, what’s more Canadian Jewish than a Passover seder with post-season hockey on the television in the next room?
As a Canadian Jewish kid, hockey was a major part of my upbringing. The competition was always fierce. At day school I played constantly – during recess, in gym class, at the park during the Sukkot and Pesach breaks. (But I wasn’t allowed to play on Shabbat – not even road hockey.) I’d skip eating lunch just to get in a few more minutes of game time.
The house league I played in was predominantly Jewish, too, and the competition there was even more intense. So many of the players were day school students themselves that, win or lose, you knew you’d have to deal with the fallout in class (or if not there, in shul). I’ll never forget losing in the playoffs one year to a rival team whose star forward was a year ahead of me in school and whose family lived just a few blocks away. That night as my father and I were unloading the equipment bag from the trunk, he and his father drove by our house laughing and shouting “loser” out the window. Like I said, intense.
I was a goalie, following in the tradition of my father. The way I saw it, playing net carried the supreme advantage of never having to take a shift off. Besides, I liked the pressure of being the last line of defence (even if I usually wasn’t all that great at keeping the puck out of the net). When I think about it now, goalie might just be the most Jewish of hockey positions. You’re constantly bending, never allowed to break. Tevye would have made a good netminder.
Only two goalies have won the Hart Trophy, awarded each season to the NHL’s most valuable player, this millennia, and both were Montreal Canadiens. Which brings us to another time-honoured Canadian Jewish tradition – the Toronto-Montreal rivalry. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens haven’t played each other in the playoffs since the 1978-79 season, but that could change this year (as a Leafs fan, anything would be better than facing Boston again). Can you imagine trying to finish a seder while the Leafs and Habs are going at it? Elijah would have plenty of time to pop in the front door, drink his cup, even sample the roast, and slip out again before anyone noticed.
But then, if there’s good playoff hockey to be had, dayenu.