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Let’s Go Shinny! by Jennifer

Guest post by Jennifer Feuerbach

The winter sun finally breaks over the winter morning horizon; boys and girls munch on their cereal in Saturday-morning pj’s. Maybe cartoons are on, but these kids are waiting for texts and phone calls that say “Let’s go shinny!” From tiny tots to lumbering six-footers, they throw on clothes as their parents grab coffee and warm up the cars. Lovingly the boys and girls grab sticks and skates!

What! Skates? Yes, ice skates. Oh, and pucks, too. Because this isn’t Scotland, it’s Ontario. The name for the pick-up game is still Shinny (at least in northern Canada), but the rest of the world knows the sport as hockey. Ice Hockey is literally Shinty on ice! Don’t believe me? Let’s compare some rules.

For Shinty and Ice Hockey:

You can’t kick the ball/puck in for a score, but it’s more than welcome to go in off of a defenseman’s feet.

Hitting an opponent’s arms with your stick is a foul called hacking. Hitting your opponent’s head or shoulders is high sticking. Hitting your opponent’s feet and lower legs is tripping. (In hockey all could land you in a fight with an enforcer before the game is over).

If you hold the stick with both hands you may used it to “block and tackle” to your heart’s content (not on the head). However, you may not jump directly on the person or put yourself directly in the player’s path.

A ball/puck that hits a referee is still in play (linesmen in hockey spend a lot of time jumping).

There are some interesting differences. In Shinty it’s specifically stated that during a “throw up” you’re not allowed to move your stance until the ball is hit. This was a gentlemen’s understanding in Hockey when dropping a puck during a face off on the ice (the setup is the same) until the 1980’s when Ron Francis of the Pittsburgh Penguins started turning in a quick circle, binding up the other player, and then kicking the puck to his players on the outside. It was so successful that the National Hockey League had to put the rule in writing.

It is a matter of the highest distinction in any American sport if you come up with a method so good that they declare it cheating and make a rule against it.

Shinty came to Canada in the late 19th century. Previously most Scots that had come to the New World had either come either as moneyed opportunists, their direct workers, skilled tradesmen, or soldiers. The soon to be United States did get a sudden surge of Scottish Aristocrats that moved here in the late 18th century. They called themselves “Jacobites” and settled VERY deep in the Appalachian Mountains, usually rather far south to avoid excess snow. My beloved Urquharts went all the way to New Orleans, which was French at the time, and the The Urquhart is there to this day.

As the industrial revolution brought strange economic changes to the British Isles, more and more farmers found themselves emigrating. Britain particularly sponsored ships to Canada because the land was very sparsely settled.

Those who found themselves on Nova Scotia must have found it a bittersweet change. On the one hand Scottish culture is very solid there. Highs schools today even offer Scots-Gaelic as a language. The land is lush and beautiful. But the people were often wealthy and refined. And the winters were, to put it bluntly, COLD! October nights on Nova Scotia can be chillier than Glasgow can get all winter long.

The good thing about snow and ice, and it is very good, is the sheer speed it can add to sports. You can skate easily three times as fast as you can run. And turning doesn’t slow you down. If you watch figure skaters, they always make along turn before a jump to pick up speed. If someone steals the pick from you in a Hockey game, you’re going to come flying from behind for revenge. Every snowfall resurfaces the ice. So instead of lying in bed, dreading getting up and shoveling a path to do chores, farm boys could drift off to sleep in glorious anticipation.

They did have to make some changes to the game. Hockey is very fast and can only be played in spurts. Line changes were needed so often that the number of players was cut down to half. Hockey has only six players at a time, including the goalie. Substitutions happen on a rolling basis; there are often 12-15 people on a team.

There is a story behind the shape of the puck, though it’s thought to be legend. Supposedly an indoor rink owner grew sick of having his windows broken and cut the ends off of the ball. Obviously it’s intended to let the puck slide rather than roll. Bandy, which is also Shinty on ice, is played in Wales, on ice, with a ball. I cannot conceive of how they pull it off. More power to them.

The other very major issue was penalties. You really can’t be “out of bounds” on an ice rink. In fact, they probably put the walls around the rink to resist the accidental, and the very much intentional, knocking of people off of the ice into the snow. It’s irresistible to watch people fall into a snowbank even if you’re not trying to win a game. In fact it’s almost impossible to keep young children out of them. But I digress.

Since there was no way to take a “penalty shot”, they changed the rules and took a player off of the ice, making the penalized team play a man down. This had major repercussions. It left a great deal of power in the hands of the referee, and to this day the professional game isn’t called fairly. This led to teams putting “enforcers” on their defense. I could go on, but let me just say that a well-called game is much more fun to watch.

It is an interesting fact that the State of California now has both internationally recognized Hockey teams and Shinty teams. The world gets stranger every day.

But Hockey never lost its Scottish taste. When I was growing up our team was the Buffalo Sabers, from Buffalo, NY, USA. Because we were so far north we often played Canadian teams, but I distinctly remember when we played Winnipeg. Not the games; they were in a later time zone and too late for me. No, it was the tone of voice of the sportscaster. “This week the Sabers play the Jets at Winnipeg”. There was no hope of victory. Indeed, he seemed to doubt that everyone was going to get back on the plane.

Make no mistake, Canadian teams aren’t generally the ones that pick fights. They don’t have to. Americans tended to pick fights to get good Canadian players thrown out of games. The best way to stay healthy and safe in a Hockey game is to move if someone is coming to slam you into the boards. This takes skill and hard work. Canadians always had the skill. But Winnipeg is a city founded by Scots, and if you don’t work the crowd lets you know. Winnipeg players ground you into the ice over the course of the night with toughness and consistency. We just wanted our team to live to win another day.

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