BY TAIT SIMPSON
As a Canadian hockey player with limited skills creeping toward 30 years old, there are dwindling options to continue playing. Most men opt for the local rec (read: beer) league. For me, a business student at Oxford University in England, I found the world’s second-oldest active team to keep my game alive.
The Oxford hockey team, believed to be second only to Montreal-based McGill University’s squad in terms of longevity, has a storied history. In the 1920s it played against pro teams all over the world. Founded in the 1880s, the team has played Cambridge University continuously each year since 1922. This year’s annual game, the biggest game of the year for each team, featured 700 local fans, many of whom had never seen a hockey game before.
The blasting music and local brewery that aggressively pushed its beer over the loudspeakers combined for a noisy atmosphere. My Oxford team – with a lineup that included a Russian, a Finn, three Americans, three Brits and six Canadians – pulled out an 8-2 victory in a hard-hitting game March 1.
A group of mostly Canadian students keep the Oxford team alive and competitive in the British University Ice Hockey Association. Road games always provide surprises as rinks vary from the large international surfaces to smaller rinks only about 70 percent the size of a North American rink.
The team may never have produced any big-league hockey players, but it has produced two Nobel Prize winners, two governors of the Bank of Canada, the current premier of Newfoundland and a former prime minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, after whom the MVP trophy for the Oxford-Cambridge match is named.
Playing with a short bench, I was able to win the trophy with two third-period goals.
While hockey has limited appeal in Britain, ice skating itself is hugely popular with teenagers as a social event. Our Saturday evening game was both preceded and followed by two hours of open skating, where hundreds of local teenagers pay to rent skates and go around in circles; likely in hopes of happening upon a well-timed slip.
For someone whose career previously ended with high school hockey, the level of competition is perfect. It’s likely comparable to junior B hockey in Canada or the level of hockey played at smaller, Division III U.S. colleges.
The normal aspects of hockey life – good ice and someone to sharpen skates – are both hard to come by in Britain.
Still, the game is alive and well, open to any Canadian with a desire to go back to school, a full set of gear and a willingness to travel.