They dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). At a very young age, dressed in skates, they went to the rink very early in the morning, with the sole ambition of being the best. Their hopes dashed, many Canadians travelled overseas to pursue their unfulfilled dreams. Many Quebeckers opted for France, while Anglophone Canadians headed to England or Germany. Their goal was simply to play hockey. Canada’s national sport does not generate nearly as much passion among Europeans. In France, hockey is for a limited audience and only a few towns can claim to have any real talent.

Why leave?
"Everything would be fine if I were a hero.
I would have liked so much to be a hockey player too.
Yes I would have liked to chase the Stanley Cup.
I would have given anything to be a hockey player."
(Excerpt from the song Les patins d’aladin , Album Simon Genest Paris-Quebec).

Simon Genest has lived in Paris for ten years. He is a hockey player and coach for the Anges du Vézinet, in a Paris suburb. In Quebec, he played in college and university leagues. Having earned a master’s in 199 Read More
They dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). At a very young age, dressed in skates, they went to the rink very early in the morning, with the sole ambition of being the best. Their hopes dashed, many Canadians travelled overseas to pursue their unfulfilled dreams. Many Quebeckers opted for France, while Anglophone Canadians headed to England or Germany. Their goal was simply to play hockey. Canada’s national sport does not generate nearly as much passion among Europeans. In France, hockey is for a limited audience and only a few towns can claim to have any real talent.

Why leave?
"Everything would be fine if I were a hero.
I would have liked so much to be a hockey player too.
Yes I would have liked to chase the Stanley Cup.
I would have given anything to be a hockey player."
(Excerpt from the song Les patins d’aladin , Album Simon Genest Paris-Quebec).

Simon Genest has lived in Paris for ten years. He is a hockey player and coach for the Anges du Vézinet, in a Paris suburb. In Quebec, he played in college and university leagues. Having earned a master’s in 1991, during which he studied the migration of hockey players to Europe, he decided to pursue his hockey career in France.

Like many other Canadians, Simon is a true lover of the game. He too dreamed of playing for an NHL team. With his determination and athletic disposition, he realized that his destiny lay elsewhere. "The working class of hockey emigrates. The players are attracted by the European adventure and can continue their career while earning a good salary," he noted.

He estimates that over 3,000 Canadian hockey players play at the professional level in Europe today. Over 75% of them return to Canada for the summer, while 25% have settled permanently in Europe. During the 1988-89 season, there were not even 600 players in this category.


Several Canadians joined the elite team, the Dragons of Rouen. For a variety of reasons, they all crossed the ocean to pursue their careers.

Simon Lacroix was born in Varennes on the south shore of Montréal. He has been in Europe for three years. "My dream was to play for an American university. Unfortunately, I was not eligible for a scholarship because I had played ten or so games with a major junior team, which is not allowed." [translation]

Patrick Genest, from Quebec City, crossed the Atlantic in 1996. He played in Italy for two years and has been with the Rouen team since 1998: "The American league was my dream, but unfortunately it did not happen for me. The only option left for me was Europe. Now I enjoy my quality of life." [translation]

Phil Groeneveld, a native of Oshawa, Ontario, arrived in Europe five years ago and has tended goal for the Rouen team since 1997: "I had a scholarship to play for the University of Ohio. I did not really enjoy playing for that team. I wanted something different and hockey took me to Europe. I did not speak French at all but I learned. I hope to return to Canada one day since that is where I am the happiest." [translation]

Frank Pajonkowski is French-born. He played hockey in Montreal for 13 years, including two years with a junior major team. "That year (1981) my name was supposed to be on the list of players to be drafted on the third round. Unfortunately, it was not there. The North American leagues pay less. Besides, I had had enough and decided to return to live in France. I have won several championships and titles and have never regretted my decision." [translation]

Guy Fournier, a native of Portneuf, Quebec, has coached the Rouen elite team since 1996. In Canada, he had a four-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets. Unfortunately, the team bought back his contract after just two years. "I would say I was an average NHL player. In 1984, I left for Europe to continue my career. It has been a fantastic life experience. I never dreamed of becoming a coach and look what I have been able to do thanks to hockey. Every year, several Canadians send me their curriculum vitae. They all want to play in Europe." [translation]


© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Finns unanimously regard ice hockey as their national sport. In 1998, all fans were invited to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the history of hockey in Finland. The players’ perseverance and the love of the game has made hockey the country’s most successful sport. The Finnish people now share the Canadian passion for hockey.

Hockey made its appearance in Finland in 1928. The national team played in its first World Championship in 1939. The players’ lack of experience was glaring at that time. For a number of years, they had to be satisfied with placing fourth or fifth, as they could not steal a medal away from the Canadians, Russians, Swedes or Czechs.

In spite of these setbacks, hockey continued to draw more and more fans and spectators. The passion for this sport had been born, and it quickly took its place in Finnish culture. Juhani Wahlsten, a former player (1947-1972) and coach, believes that the secret to their perseverance was that they accepted defeat. "When the Canadians played in a championship, they had the attitude of winners, ’hockey is our thing’, they seemed to say. Canada did not really know the meanin Read More

Finns unanimously regard ice hockey as their national sport. In 1998, all fans were invited to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the history of hockey in Finland. The players’ perseverance and the love of the game has made hockey the country’s most successful sport. The Finnish people now share the Canadian passion for hockey.

Hockey made its appearance in Finland in 1928. The national team played in its first World Championship in 1939. The players’ lack of experience was glaring at that time. For a number of years, they had to be satisfied with placing fourth or fifth, as they could not steal a medal away from the Canadians, Russians, Swedes or Czechs.

In spite of these setbacks, hockey continued to draw more and more fans and spectators. The passion for this sport had been born, and it quickly took its place in Finnish culture. Juhani Wahlsten, a former player (1947-1972) and coach, believes that the secret to their perseverance was that they accepted defeat. "When the Canadians played in a championship, they had the attitude of winners, ’hockey is our thing’, they seemed to say. Canada did not really know the meaning of losing, but Finland did." In 1965, the first indoor rink was built in the city of Tampere. The national team earned its very first medal (silver) at the Olympic Games in Calgary, in 1988.

Countries such as Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic had a huge influence on the development of hockey. Wahlsten is aware of Canada’s significant influence: "In 1959, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association offered a coaching job to Joe Wirkkunen of Port Arthur, Ontario, a Canadian of Finnish parentage, in order to establish a hockey program. He is the one who set it all up. The players could finally give up the "magic box" strategy and move toward a much higher level of competition".

Unlike its neighbours, Finland had never been seen as a really tough opponent to beat. "The Swedes, Russians and Czechs had their own style of play, and had strong teams. The Finnish style borrowed from Canada, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, and from the Czechs and Russians. Hockey became popular in about 1990 partly as a result of the construction of arenas. The Finns now know what it means to win" noted Jani Mesikämmen and Timo Mestsä-Tokila, both researchers from the University of Turku.

The history of hockey in Finland is somewhat paradoxical. Hockey now enjoys the most media coverage of any sport. With a population of no more than six million, Finland is the first European country to have an Ice Hockey Museum and Hall of Fame. Moreover, some 30 Finnish hockey players are now part of the National Hockey League. Their passion for hockey is therefore only equalled by the players’ perseverance in gaining experience.


© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Veli-Pekka Ketola

Veli-Pekka Ketola, Winnipeg Jets' player, World Hockey Association, 1974.

CHIN

© Photo: Sports Museum of Finland, Olympic Stadium.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Investigate the role that hockey plays in Canada’s national identity
  • Identify significant people involved in hockey in Canada
  • Examine media’s role and evolution in promoting hockey
  • Explore how the arts, television and movies have portrayed Canadian hockey
  • Identify reasons why some Canadian hockey players choose to pursue their careers in France
  • Describe Canada’s influence on the development of hockey in Finland

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