Hockey Canada summit puts elite men’s hockey under the microscope

Hockey Canada summit puts elite men's hockey under the microscope
A mask, made by university hockey players as part of a research project, is seen on display at the Hockey Canada Beyond The Boards Summit, in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

The outside of the mask was decorated with the words “boys will be boys, power, kings.” The inside read “pain, suicidal, need love.”

Another mask read “smart, focused, money” on the exterior, and “angry, unsure, bi” on the inside.

The masks, created by university hockey players — some who played major junior — were a research project presented Friday at Hockey Canada’s Beyond The Boards Summit.

The two-day summit tackled elite men’s hockey, which dominates the sport’s culture in Canada, and the toxic masculinity in it that can also breed racism, sexism and homophobia in the game.

The masks, which were distributed among the tables in the conference room for examination, were intended to demonstrate what toxic masculinity does to men in the game.

“Those are conversations men aren’t able to have,” said the researcher Teresa Fowler, an assistant professor at Concordia University of Edmonton.

The closed door of the locker room and violence presented as toughness were among the themes kicking off the summit that concludes Saturday.

“The men in our study were told (they) have to do things against (their) constitution,” Fowler said. “One of the players knew he would have to fight, so he couldn’t sleep and was drinking on the plane and doing whatever he needed to do to cope.”

The summit’s audience at the summit included leaders from minor and professional hockey. Workshop sessions and panel discussions were closed to the media.

Hockey Canada is under pressure to change its culture and that of hockey following reports and allegations of sexual assaults and hazing in the game.

One of the tamer examples of hazing presented was a rookie initiation in which a male player was made to wear a dress with the intent of making him feel inferior to the rest of his teammates.

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For Katherine Henderson, the former head of Curling Canada who replaced Scott Smith as Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer, the summit was her first official event within her first week on the job.

“Our plans might mean that we will have to rethink some of the things that we hold dear, and believe to be true or an intrinsic part of hockey,” Henderson said in her opening remarks.

“The summit is about one step to understand a problem and begin to map out where we need to go, who needs to be on, and frankly, who needs to get off the bus.”

Hockey Canada intends the summit to be one in a series with other tackling the aforementioned racism, sexism and homophobia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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