STEPHEN HARPER ISN'T JUST THE LEADER OF CANADA. HE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF the Society for International Hockey Research, who wouldn't have missed the gold medal game for anything short of a national crisis. Here he discusses hockey, the homeland and the value of Olympic glory.
How much pressure was the Canadian men's hockey team under in these Olympics?
SH: Incredible. I can't think of anything in any country where a team would be under such universal expectation of a gold and nothing less. It's a big deal, to all of us.
Would you agree that to understand the heart and mind of Canada, you have to understand hockey?
SH: Rightly or wrongly, people see [hockey] as deeply reflective of the character of the nation and certainly deeply reflective of the sports culture of the nation. There are parallels to baseball in the United States, although with hockey in Canada it's probably even more intense because baseball in the U.S. has competitors like football and basketball. There are other important sports in Canada, but nothing competes with hockey. It's on a different plane. It defines the country in a unique way.
What does hockey say about Canada and the Canadian character?
SH: It says, first and foremost, we're a northern country. I was chatting about hockey with President Dmitry Medvedev [of Russia]. You know, we're the two coldest countries on earth and not by coincidence the two best hockey countries. Also, hockey is a fast, aggressive, tough sport, and that's an important part of the Canadian psychology and history. It's sometimes forgotten because Canadians are thought of as peace—loving and fair-minded and pleasant—which I think we are—but that's not inconsistent with tough and aggressive and ambitious, which is also part of the national character. Another thing about hockey is that it is culturally crosscutting: English and French, ethnic communities, all regions of the country. You see immigrants start to belong to Canadian society when their kids start to come to the hockey rink. Then the parents integrate with the other parents. It crosses social and class lines. So it's a great common denominator.
You're writing a book about the history of hockey. What have you learned?
SH: My interest is in the early decades of the modern sport, 1870s until the First World War. It's apparent that the rage and the excitement with which this new sport swept the country was really a phenomenon. You see the development of a national consciousness that did not exist before. People forget that in 1867 Canada's national consciousness was very fragmentary. There was a strong set of regional identities because these had been separate colonies. And there was a wider attachment to the British Empire, especially for English Canadians. The development of hockey is an important part of the development of a uniquely Canadian identity and a uniquely Canadian sense of belonging in a community across the country.
Was the 2010 Olympic gold medal game the most important match ever played on Canadian ice?