It’s a game to some, a religion to others. To me, hockey is part of my love story with Canada

By admin Dec19,2023

This First Person column is written by Erlinda Tan, a Filipina Canadian and Edmonton Oilers fan who now lives in Vancouver. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.

The first full hockey game I ever watched was during the 2010 Winter Olympics — the memorable final against the U.S. when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal in a nail-biting overtime.

Along with friends on Vancouver Island, I watched the game on a big TV screen and then followed the news to see Canada erupt in jubilation from coast to coast to coast. Cars honked for victory, while people sang O Canada inside trains, buses, malls, just everywhere.

I had moved to Canada from the Philippines just a few months earlier. I had only seen hockey in photos. But I couldn’t believe a hockey victory could unite a nation to such a degree. It was one of the most beautiful displays of people-power I had ever seen. 

From then on, I became curious about the sport. From time to time, while busy settling in my new country, I would briefly check the game on TV. It didn’t excite me the way it had on Feb. 28, 2010, but as I built my new life, it was like the sport was following me — people wearing hockey jerseys, loud cheers in my apartment building when the game was on. One day, I included hockey in my “To Learn” checklist as a new immigrant in Canada. 

It was spring 2014 when I went to my first in-person hockey game. It was the Edmonton Oilers versus the Anaheim Ducks. I was invited by a friend who’s a big hockey fan and buys tickets for the whole season. 

Tan was swept up by the excitement of the crowd at the first game she attended in person, an April 2014 matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks. After that game, she started realizing how important hockey was to her new home. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

When I heard the buzzer sound, I was reminded of the sound of ships about to dock back home in the Philippines. But I wasn’t at the ocean. I was inside Edmonton’s Rexall Place, a hockey arena with a sea of people dressed in orange jerseys chanting “Let’s gooo Oilers!”

The images I remember from TV came alive but this time, I was part of the big, cheering crowd.  The Oilers won and everyone left the arena smiling. I still have those lovely images in my mind today.

I started to realize how big the sport of hockey was in my city. My co-workers would wear Oilers’ jerseys to work and I learned the boss might not be in a good mood if the Oilers lost. I heard talk about a “Battle of Alberta,” and after searching online, I found out it’s not a historic war but a fierce hockey rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary. 

I also began realizing that in Canada, hockey is not only a sport — it’s way bigger than that. It’s almost like a religion. It’s integrated into the culture — and even into the street names. My curiosity about Wayne Gretzky Drive was answered when I watched online videos of Mr. Gretzky and found out why he’s a living legend of the game.  

I started watching the game on TV and sort of enjoyed it. I’m an avid follower of news and if the Battle of Alberta was a big event, I didn’t want to miss it. I bought small towels with the Oilers logo and hung them in my kitchen. Nine years later, I still have these towels. 

I was falling in love with hockey at the same pace I was integrating into the country. It was nice to join conversations in the office about the game and feel that I belonged.

A pair of blue towels with a logo reading the word "Oilers" and additional text reading Edmonton Oilers.
Tan still has the small Oilers’ towels she bought after starting to get hooked on NHL hockey while living in Edmonton. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Rekindling the romance

Two years later, in 2016, I moved to Vancouver to find work after being laid off from my job in Edmonton. Restarting life in Vancouver was not easy. Looking for a new job and getting to know the city was my main focus for months. I had to take a break from many pastimes, including watching hockey. 

By 2018, when I was settled in my new city, I met Mike. He’s a big hockey fan. For Hockey Night in Canada, he prepares special dinners and makes sure he has enough beverages to last the game. 

He has five hockey jerseys — four Canucks and one Oilers. (He became an Oilers fan after meeting me.)

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Meeting Mike was like rekindling a love affair that was cut short when I moved out of Edmonton. Saturday night hockey and nachos became my new favourite thing. Mike gifted me with a Canucks hockey jersey and I wear it proudly.  

When we go out on Saturday, we make sure to be back home for Hockey Night in Canada. If we’re out dining, we go to a sports bar and find a place in front of the TV. During the season, hockey is part of our weekends. It’s part of our relationship.

A man grins widely while being hugged by a mascot with a whale head while a laughing woman gives a thumbs-up.
When Tan, right, and Yochmans, left, are asked about their different jerseys, their response is ‘Love conquers all.’ (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Through Mike, I’ve learned the details of the game and phrases like cherry-picking, high stick and icing. I remember his facial expression when I asked, “Are there cherries on the court?” He said there’s none and it’s not a court, but a rink. I once mentioned “second quarter” and he told me there’s no quarter in hockey, just periods. It’s still hard for me to fathom the violence in the sport. I once asked Mike why punching is allowed on the rink and he told me, “Honey, it’s hockey!” His tone sounded like, “That’s just the way it is.” 

Mike and I are different in many ways, such as our work backgrounds, skills and favourite sports, but we have compromised and decided to enjoy our diversity. 

For example, I’m a big tennis fan. In the last two years, I took Mike with me to the Billie Jean King Cup at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, and most recently we watched the Laver Cup at Rogers Arena. He also sits beside me at home when I watch the Grand Slam tournaments. 

In return, I’ve taught him tennis phrases like deuce, break point, ace and love. Unlike hockey, I told him with a smile, you hear love a lot in tennis.

A woman wearing a T-shirt with a tennis player on it poses inside an arena with a tennis court behind her.
Tan wearing her Roger Federer T-shirt at the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup. Tan is a big fan of tennis and has persuaded her boyfriend to join her at tennis events or watch it on television. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Once or twice a year, we go to a hockey game at Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. I love the atmosphere. It’s like a town’s party — or fiesta as we say in the Philippines. We are Canucks and Oilers fans, and when the two meet for a game, we wear different jerseys. Sometimes we get asked what’s going on, we reply with a grin, “Love conquers all.”

From the 2010 Winter Olympics when I first watched a full hockey game, to today, my perception of the sport has grown a lot. It can ignite patriotism, it can bring a city together, it’s a gateway to being Canadian, it sparks important conversations (even if we don’t always agree), it captivates relationships, — and I’m speaking from a first-hand account.

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