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Hockey historians get behind my draft pick

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Heather Milan, a Grade 9 student at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, knows everything you'd like to know about hockey legend Tim Horton. And she likes Speirs' hockey pick, too.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Heather Milan, a Grade 9 student at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, knows everything you'd like to know about hockey legend Tim Horton. And she likes Speirs' hockey pick, too. Photo Store

It's a question that has divided Canadian history experts for centuries.

The question is this: If, historically speaking, you won the right to draft first overall in your office's playoff hockey pool, which NHL superstar should you have chosen?

This troubling question has been weighing on me lately because I found myself in that position a few days ago and -- prepare to call me a traitor -- I opted for Patrick Kane, a high-scoring American with the Chicago Blackhawks, over Canadian ace Sidney Crosby, the greatest hockey player in the world, who toils for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In a sincere and humanitarian effort to find out whether my fantasy hockey team will end up in the money, I decided to solicit expert opinions from a group of historians, by which I mean kids whose projects on hockey were on display Thursday at the annual Red River Regional Heritage Fair, Manitoba's biggest history fair.

As a noted history and hockey expert, I once again spent a gruelling day as a guest judge at the fair, which features projects from about 300 Grades 4 to 11 students. My goal, so to speak, was to see whether the hockey historians at the fair felt I was a genius for selecting Kane, or an unpatriotic idiot for ignoring Crosby.

I began my quest at the rear of the University of Winnipeg's gym, where 10-year-old Micah Schroeder, a Grade 4 student at Linden Christian School, proudly displayed his project on The History of Hockey in Canada. By way of background, projects at science and history fairs are traditionally displayed on giant pieces of cardboard folded into three sections.

In contrast, Micah's project was mounted on a stunning replica of the boards in a hockey rink, complete with mock Plexiglass. It featured a video screen showing hockey highlights, a tabletop hockey game showing what it was like when Canadians played shinny on ponds surrounded by snowdrifts, a red light for signalling goals, Jets trinkets, a goalie mask and 10 pucks festooned with hockey trivia questions.

The point is, this kid, clad in a Jets jersey and barely bigger than a puck himself, is an expert. Before I could ask him my hard-hitting question, he launched into a spiel putting hockey into a proudly Canadian historical perspective.

"I love hockey!" Micah, a goalie with the South Winnipeg Kings, chirped. "Since I was four years old, I've watched and played hockey. Hockey is important to all Canadians. We develop the best hockey players in the world. It's part of us. It's our game."

In the eyes of this pint-sized historian, hockey isn't just what we do; it's who we are.

That's when I pressed him on whether, in his heart, he believed I was a fool for picking Kane, an American, over Crosby, a beloved Canadian icon. I sensed I was in trouble when he said his favourite NHL team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I would have picked Sidney Crosby because he's on my favourite hockey team," the little guy explained, then, seeing the sadness in my eyes, quickly added: "But you're not dumb. Kane is very good. He's probably the best player on Chicago."

It was a different story several rows away, where 12-year-old Phoenix Morrissette, a Grade 7 student at l'École communautaire Réal-Bérard in St-Pierre-Jolys, displayed his project on netminder Jacques Plante and the evolution of the goalie mask.

"Jacques Plante is the one who made everyone wear a mask," the bilingual student, whose family includes a long line of goaltenders, told me. "He stepped up and said, 'I'm not going to go on the ice without a mask!' "

Red-faced, I confessed I had skipped over the great Crosby with the first pick in our NHL playoff draft. Phoenix took the news well. "That was smart," he snorted. "Sidney Crosby gets injured non-stop. He usually misses pretty much half the games."

It was like that all day, as I moved from one cool exhibit to another. I was deeply moved at the booth of 14-year-old Heather Milan, a Grade 9 student at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute. It featured everything you'd want to know about Tim Hortons, the coffee and doughnut chain, and its founder, hockey icon Tim Horton.

"I know who Sidney Crosby is, but I don't know who Patrick Kane is," she giggled. "So you'll be fine. You probably made a good decision."

I certainly hope so, Heather, because otherwise my hockey pool team will be just like all the projects at the fair -- history!

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A2

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