Hockey is hurling on ice

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
March 17, 2004 Wednesday Final Edition

Hockey is hurling on ice


Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all my Irish friends and the rest of you
who wish you were Irish on this finest of days.

I’d like to take this opportunity to enter the current debate over
the origins of hockey and declare that

no matter where the game started, it was Irishmen who got the ball
rolling, or was it the puck sliding?

In the past month, Nova Scotia and Virginia have staked claims as the
birthplace of hockey. In each case, these bids have been supported by
paintings from the early 19th century. And in both cases, we see
players with curved sticks playing what can only be described as a
game of hurling on ice. This is particularly evident in the Virginia
painting, which was done by John O’Toole, an Irish-American folk
artist. For the uninitiated, hurling is a uniquely Irish sport that
is renowned more for its violence than its skill. And if that doesn’t
describe hockey, what does?

Rich tradition: While we’re on a St. Patrick’s Day theme, it’s
appropriate to note the Irish contribution to North American sport.
Tommy Gorman and Ambrose O’Brien were among the founders of the NHL.
The Canadiens dynasties of the ’50s included all-star goalie Gerry
McNeil and Dickie Moore and the current roster features Michael Ryder
and Jim Dowd. King Clancy, Frank McGee, Joe Malone, Cy Denneny, Red
Kelly and Teeder Kennedy are among the Hall of Fame members who can
claim Irish ancestry.

Heavyweight champs Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey were Irish and so is
John McEnroe, who can be found in the dictionary under Irish temper.
And if you’re looking for an all-Irish NBA team, how about Bill
Walton, Kevin McHale, Dick McGuire, Easy Ed Macauley and John
Stockton with Lenny Wilkens as coach?

The Fighting French? And then, of course, we have the Fighting Irish
of Notre Dame, although we’ve always felt the name didn’t quite fit
the reality.

The school is called Notre Dame because it was founded by Pere Edmond
Sorin. He was a member of the French congregation Sacre-Coeur that
continues to run the school to this day, and is also active here in
Quebec. I know a little something about the school’s history because
Sorin was a friend of my great-grandfather, the first Patrick
Valentine Hickey. Sorin recognized my great-grandfather’s
achievements as a journalist and publisher by awarding him the
Laetare Medal, which is presented annually to an outstanding Catholic
layman. The family took great pride in this award until it was
presented to John F. Kennedy, who gave new meaning to the word

I’ve always been puzzled why a school founded by French priests
became the Fighting Irish. True, three of the famed Four Horsemen –
Don Miller, Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley – were Irish and so was
legendary coach Frank Leahy.

But Norwegian-American Knute Rockne and Greek receiver Gus Dorais put
the school on the map; Armenian Ara Parseghian presided over the
team’s most recent success and the team’s stars over the years have
been named Bertelli, Hornung, Lujack, Ishmail and Montana.

One of my favourite stories about the Irish mystique surrounding
Notre Dame goes back to the 1970s, when Tom Clements led the Ottawa
Rough Riders to a Grey Cup championship. During the party following
the game, a tipsy Montreal columnist threw his arms around Clements
and said how great it was to see an Irishman lead the Riders to the

An embarrassed Clements thanked the writer, but went on to explain
that his ancestors came to the United States from Italy and changed
their name before Clements became one of the Fighting Irish.