I'm currently overseas for a training course/conference. It is being held in the beautiful southern German state of Bavaria. There are nearly 100 participants from just over 50 countries. Apart from the subject of the course and that everyone in attendance is proficient in English (some seriously impressive language skills here, folks), we participants have little in common.
Some countries have a few representatives, so those individuals have that connection. Others are from neighboring countries, so there is some regional cultural similarities. That being said, some countries are quite big so their citizens may not share much in terms of life experience, and not all neighbors get along well.
Fortunately, people naturally seem to find ways to connect with one another (if they are open to it). Part of the conference involves breaking off into smaller groups. As you can surely imagine, everyone took a turn to introduce themselves. We had people from Thailand, South Africa, Estonia, Burkina Faso, and more. One thing nearly everyone included about themselves was what sports they like, what teams they support.
Suddenly we had a fairly common vocabulary and baseline with which to relate to each other. While a man from Kazakhstan and I don't share much in the way of history or food, we are both fans of boxing. That might not seem like much on face value, but readers here at Hockey Wilderness can appreciate the wide open potential for discussion inherrent in a single sport or even a single sports team.
Sports carry their own stakes. The ultimate prize in the NHL is the Stanley Cup. Secondary prizes, like beating a despised rival, also provide meaning to the games. Underlying it all is pure love of the game. These are all fine reasons to appreciate a sport. I would argue that the culture that grows up around a sport is just as significant.
Hockey culture, specifically that of the NHL, has some problems to be sure. The culture panders to tradition, conveniently ignoring the darker side of "the good ol' days". Minority players face discrimination. Female fans find their interest in the game questioned.
Without minimizing the importance of recognizing those issues and working towards eliminating them, hockey culture, and sports culture more broadly, is an impressively effective way to connect with people from around the world.
I just wanted to take a minute to celebrate that.