When the puck drops next week at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, the age-old hockey vs. hurling debate is sure to commence about this mysterious bond.
How did Europe’s oldest game teach the world’s coldest game?
Given that Irish-North Americans are privy to heated discussions regarding which requires more skill to play, there has always been a communal respect for the world’s two fastest sports.
In fact, many Irish fathers use hurley clubs instead of sticks when playing hockey with their children.
Many hockey roots comparisons have been drawn from northern European countries where field hockey may have been played on frozen fields. However, hurling’s lofty age makes it’s influence seem more likely.
It was in County Mayo in 1272 B.C. when the first documented hurling match between the Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann clans took place during the Battle of Moytura.
Allegedly, the rivaling sides provided 27 competitors each and engaged in a blood-spattered contest that ultimately led to a Fir Bolg victory and the subsequent demise of Tuatha De Danann.
Popular believe has hockey compared to the Scottish game of Shinty. Although shinty may have a greater resemblance to hockey, it should be noted that hurling was established in Scotland in the same time period as the Gaelic language Irish missionaries.
A Website, the Birthplace of Hockey, claims the following: “[Ice Hockey] originated around 1800, in Windsor, where the boys of Canada’s first college, King’s College School, established in 1788, adapted the exciting field game of Hurley to the ice of their favorite skating ponds and originated a new winter game, Ice Hurley. Over a period of decades, Ice Hurley gradually developed into Ice Hockey.”
From hurling’s generous derivative, hockey fans are treated to the modern-day legends of the Olympic Games.
The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games saw Canada defeat Team U.S.A in the gold medal game. Warriors of Irish bloodlines included Owen Nolan and Brian Leetch. Nolan, who is originally from Belfast, has recently been slowed by injuries while Leetch has forfeited his spot for younger defensemen.
This winter’s tournament contains several notable stars of Irish distinction.
Team Canada is the tournament favorite, lead by head coach Pat (that’s Brian Patrick) Quinn for this, his second games. As a player, Quinn was a hard-nosed defenseman who most notably administered a controversial hit on Bobby Orr that contributed to his retirement. Quinn currently coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs.
From Quinn’s Maple Leafs is defenseman Bryan McCabe, who will be making his first Olympic appearance in Torino. McCabe, who is 30, was moved into the active roster due to the injury of Ed Jovanovski.
He has been enjoying a career year offensively that has had him named NHL offensive player of the week twice.
Making his Olympic debut is right wing Shane Doan, who joins his cousin, 2002 gold medal speed skater Catriona LeMay-Doan. Doan, who is 29, is a 6’2″ power forward from a small farming community in the Canadian prairies. He is the team captain for the Phoenix Coyotes.
The red white and blue
Team U.S.A has a youth infusion heading into the games that is held together by a select group of previous leaders.
Chris Drury, who is 29, played in his first Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is a stick-handling artist who currently captains the Buffalo Sabres who are having an unexpectedly successful season thanks to the play of Drury.
Center Craig Conroy found his way onto the U.S.A. squad rather late in his career; in that, his talent bloomed that way. Conroy, a native of Potsdam, N.Y., toiled as a defensive specialist before coming into his own in recent years with the Calgary Flames.
While with the Flames, Conroy had a stint as captain and played an integral role in the team’s journey to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. Conroy, who is 34, is currently averaging one point per game for the Los Angeles Kings.
Hockey, in all of its denominations has evolved into a worldwide enterprise. Even though hockey has tamed since the bloodthirsty B.C. era, the battle for these Irish descendents still reigns true. Let the games begin!
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