If you’ve been to a baseball game, you’ve heard ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ If you’ve been to a Leafs game in the past 25 years, or any hockey game for that matter, you’ve heard ‘The Hockey Song.’
When Stompin’ Tom Connors released what would go on to be hockey’s iconic anthem, it was rarely played on the radio. His son, Tom Connors Jr. says maybe that’s because his songs were too simple. They were two or three-chord songs with simple melodies that anyone could sing along to. But for Stompin’ Tom that was the point. He wrote his songs so that anyone could sing along to them, from “4 year olds to 104.”
‘The Hockey Song’ was inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame over the weekend, 45 years after its release. Tim Hicks performed the song for those in attendance, then later again as the Leafs faced off against the Jets in a battle between two of Canada’s top teams. As he performed at the ceremony, members of the media and Tom Connors Jr. were clapping right along with him.
You can see how much it meant to Hicks, who was selected to perform the song for the event and began on the stage with an honest “I’m freaking out right now, this is unbelievable.”
When Tom Connors Jr. did interviews after the ceremony, what showed through while he talked about his father was Stompin’ Tom’s passion for Canada.
An Interesting Takeaway
The song has been played at every Leafs game since its introduction to hockey games in the 1992-93 season.
As Tom Connors Jr. stood up on stage in his white Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with a Maple Leaf Gardens patch on it and Wendel Clark right up there with him, he sure looked like a diehard Leafs fan.
Stompin’ Tom himself even performed when Maple Leafs Gardens closed in 1999, a performance which the family still has CDs of, where you can hear the crowd roaring in the background. But Stompin’ Tom wasn’t necessarily just a Leafs fan.
He was born in Saint John, NB and had two teams to pick from— The Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins. Being the patriotic Canadian he was, his decision to become a Habs fan was an easy one. It was only once he moved to Ontario and started performing at the Horseshoe Tavern after Maple Leafs games and got to know the players over beers that he became a bit of a fan. “How does someone switch from a Habs fan to a Leafs fan?” was the first thought that came to mind. “Two fierce rivals with so much history?” But as Tom Connors Jr. elaborated, it made complete sense.
“We’re Canadian hockey fans first,” said Connors Jr. “So as long as the Stanley Cup comes back to Canada and a Canadian team is succeeding, that comes first.”
From that 1992-93 season going backwards, a Canadian team had won the Stanley Cup 27 of the last 40 years.
Skip forward. It’s now been a quarter-century since a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup.
It raises an interesting point. Most Canadian hockey fans have their team— the Leafs, the Oilers, the Jets or whoever it may be. But Stompin’ Tom’s song is a reminder that hockey is a Canadian game. Not a Toronto game, not an Edmonton game and not a Winnipeg game. There’s jealousy amongst competing Canadian fanbases when one team is struggling and another is succeeding. But shouldn’t the real jealousy come in the fact that the Stanley Cup has now been won by an American team for the last 25 years? Jealousy in the fact that teams such as the Anaheim Ducks, who were just entering the league as the Montreal Canadiens won Canada’s last Stanley Cup in 1993, have since claimed victory before any other Canadian team?
When the Ottawa Senators made their run to the Conference Finals in 2017, Ottawa was a lot of fun. There were people who normally wouldn’t go near a hockey game and couldn’t previously name anyone without the last name ‘Karlsson’, who at first glance you’d think were lifelong fans based on how invested they were. Even if you weren’t a fan of the team, you could appreciate how hockey had become such a big part of the atmosphere in Ottawa. That’s what Canadian hockey is meant to be.
Skip to now. At the beginning of the season the Sens hosted the Los Angeles Kings. Not only was the attendance almost demoralizing for a Canadian team, there was such little energy and spirit throughout the game. Thankfully, ‘The Hockey Song’ kickstarted a tradition of playing music during stoppages, otherwise you probably could have heard a pin drop inside that arena during parts of the game.
‘The Hockey Song’ was made for all of Canada to enjoy and it helps to create an identity for the country, similar to how hockey is part of Canada’s identity. Something that makes it so successful is that everyone knows the song, can sing along and celebrate it together. But why can’t hockey be the same?
It’s interesting that when the Olympics or World Cup of Hockey come along, you’ll find yourself cheering for players you despise, in order to see Canada win. It’s fun because everyone is the entire country is rooting for the same team. But like Connors, shouldn’t everyone try to be not just a fan of their own team, but a Canadian hockey fan? It may be rare for someone to root for both the Habs and Leafs in a single lifetime like Stompin’ Tom did, but somewhere along the way doesn’t it seem as though every Canadian team that isn’t your own became a rival? With hockey, the goal should be to grow the game, not to wish poorly upon every other team that can also compete for the title of ‘Best in Canada.’ The hope should be that at the end of the season, one of these teams is be able to call themselves ‘Best in the NHL.’
As Connors Jr. said, the Leafs look like a team that could be able to do it. But if it’s not them, hopefully some team, regardless of who, can bring an end to the quarter-century-long streak and all of Canada can enjoy it, just like how Canadians enjoy ‘The Hockey Song.’
“Everybody will be singing ‘The Hockey Song’ in harmony across the country if that day comes and the old man upstairs would be very happy to know that was happening.”