by Jennifer Redenbach | AHL On The Beat
Hockey is more than just a sport for Canadians. It’s a way of life.
It’s a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call to brave the cold and head to the rink for practice. It’s a nostalgic memory of sitting in front of the television with your family, wearing your team’s sweater and watching the puck drop on Saturday night. It’s coming together with 15,000 fellow fans at the arena to cheer on your favorite team. It’s watching Sidney Crosby find the back of the net at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and celebrating, not only with his team, but with the entire nation. It’s about belonging to a team and sharing your passion and pride with those around you.
This is the experience Alex Coutu strives to share with students in the Winnipeg School Division’s International Program.
“Winnipeg School Division invites students from around the world to study in Winnipeg and learn about Canada and Canadian culture,” Coutu explained. “As an international education program, we want to offer our students not only a first-rate academic experience with Winnipeg School Division, but a cultural experience so they can understand what makes Winnipeg, and Canada, so special.”
Coutu’s role as the International Student Advisor for Winnipeg’s School Division is to not only to offer support and education to the students, but also contribute a first-hand experience of Canadian culture by coordinating field trips.
This is how the Winnipeg School Division’s International Program staff and a group of curious and eager students wound up at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 18 to see the Manitoba Moose face the Iowa Wild.
“Part of what made us want to take the students to a Moose game was hoping they could get a taste of the experience that is being part of the hockey community in Winnipeg,” Coutu said. “There is nothing like cheering for your home team for bonding.”
The Moose game did not disappoint and ended up being action-packed as 10 goals were exchanged between the two clubs. Manitoba ended up coming back from a two-goal deficit which warranted a thrilling finish even though the Moose went on to lose the game, 6-4.
The students who attended the hockey game hail from many different countries around the world including China, Japan, Vietnam, Iran, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Brazil. Coutu was worried that the students would become disengaged with the experience since they did not know the rules of the game. Like living in a new culture, learning a new sport can be intimidating. However, Coutu discussed how the student’s reaction to the game was in fact quite the opposite.
“One of my favorite moments was when the Moose pulled the goalie at the end of the game,” Coutu explained. “One of the students was very stressed out that the referees weren’t stopping the game because it wasn’t fair for the Moose not to have a goalie. I found myself having a really great time explaining the rules and seeing them tucking that knowledge away.”
Curiosity of a new experience was what drew the students to the game in the first place. The students’ preconception of a hockey game was simply based on their imaginations from the outside looking in.
“Before the game, most of them probably didn’t know what to expect. They were asking if they needed parkas and mittens because they assumed the rink would be colder than outside. I don’t think they believed that a sweater would be plenty warm enough. I don’t think they realized what a fan-friendly place Bell MTS Place would be,” said Coutu.
Taking the students to a hockey game was to share a piece of Canadian culture. Coutu expressed why this experience was fundamental in her desire to share Canadian heritage with the students.
“It’s so important that the students experience what Winnipeg has to offer. As much as they are here for an education, they are also here to understand what makes us Canadians… and Winnipeggers. Other International program activities or events we do are indoor soccer, ice skating, tobogganing, game nights, day camps.”
One of the many characteristics Canada holds as a nation is inclusion and pride in what makes us who we are. The essence of our country denotes a welcoming spirit. Hockey has the capability of being an opportunity to demonstrate inclusion and pride of what Canada has to offer. Coutu expressed that hockey and Canadian culture are synonymous in their values.
“Hockey is about working hard, doing your best, watching out for your teammates and having some fun. Being Canadian is about working hard, doing your best, watching out for each other and having some fun; there’s a lot of commonality there.”
The camaraderie and sense of belonging that a team extends doesn’t begin and end on the ice. It melts into the stands, into our communities and across the country. Hockey has the ability to unite. The sport can welcome those who are unfamiliar with the game, and Canadian culture, simply through passion and the sharing of an experience. Hockey is one of the treasures Canada holds so closely as a piece of its tradition. To be able to share this with others is a part of what makes the game so special.
Hockey won’t be the only thing that brings people together. However, as proved by Alex Coutu and the many others at the Winnipeg School Division, it’s a great place to start.