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While I love my Italian heritage, I am first and foremost a proud Canadian girl.

And as such I am addicted to hockey.

My grandparents and parents, all of whom came to Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, very quickly became fans of the game and of course my aunts and uncles followed suit as they grew up in a nation that idolizes the sport.

Just say 1972, even to young children, and everyone knows that you’re referencing the great hockey battle between Canada and the former Soviet Union.

I love hockey. I love the speed, the action, the camaraderie, the artistry and yes … the fighting! I love watching men’s and women’s hockey and will happily go and watch the children of friends and coworkers as they take part in the sport.

On a very basic level, I believe hockey allows Canadians to gather at their local arena and just be Canadian. It’s a way to enjoy our cold climate and a way for our children to participate in an active lifestyle.

On a more profound level, in a country as enormous as Canada where a relatively small population is spread out from coast to coast, I believe that hockey has been one of the few common threads in the tapestry of our nation. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in British Columbia or in Prince Edward Island, we all play hockey.

While Canadians are generally known for being “nice” and mild-mannered, hockey seems to be one of the few issues that galvanizes us. I love the fact that I’m Canadian and that we have peaceful values but it always amazes me how territorial we become about hockey. And it further amazes me how territorial I’ve become about hockey!!!

Closer to home, I am, of course, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Actually, make that LONG-SUFFERING, GREATLY PAINED, FRUSTRATED, ANGRY, TIRED, IRRITATED, BEATEN-DOWN Leafs fan.

The other Leafs fans out there will know exactly what I mean.

But even though I am a LONG-SUFFERING, GREATLY PAINED, FRUSTRATED, ANGRY, TIRED, IRRITATED and BEATEN-DOWN Leafs fan, I’m still a Leafs fan and I still love hockey. If I am home on a Saturday night, and it’s hockey season, then I will be watching Hockey Night in Canada along with millions of other Canadians.

So today is Hockey Day in Canada, 2009 and all over this country, communities have planned events to celebrate. The day-long celebration is broadcast on the CBC and always ends up having you crying with all the sweet stories about kids playing hockey. The show also highlights a lot of Canadian professional hockey players who seem to be very generous with their time and efforts towards making the day as special as possible.

The centrepiece of this celebration is the NHL schedule that has the six Canadian teams matched up against each other throughout the day (this year: Montreal vs. Ottawa, Vancouver vs. Toronto, Calgary vs. Edmonton).

While HDIC is largely a television event, it’s amazing how it has come to be embraced at the community level. Canada is driven by its communities. While those of us that live in large cities like Toronto or Montreal often like to pride ourselves on being the centre of it all, the fact is that hockey is community-driven. This is why I love the fact that so much of HDIC is about kids playing hockey, especially in small towns or communities. There’s not much that’s more beautiful or fun to watch than a bunch of kids playing hockey on a cold winter’s day.

I wanted to make something special to celebrate HDIC, 2009 and all week I was trying to find some really amazing dessert or sweet that I could whip up. But I’m in a really busy period right now and all I kept coming back to was “make something with maple syrup”. So then I whittled that down to “maple syrup”. I whipped up a batch of my favourite waffles and drenched them in the very best maple syrup (which everyone knows comes from Canada!!!)!

For the final word on the glory of hockey and what it means to Canadians, I give you an excerpt from David Adams Richards’ bittersweet and beautiful book Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn’t Play:

Hockey is played in the cold, and a generation of movies from Hollywood that have influenced our outlook about ourselves has shown us that cold weather is something abnormal.

However we are the coldest country on earth. And everyone except the children want to deny it. Thousands of us froze our hands, our feet and our ears every day just walking to school. And where we went after school was to a cold rink to put on frozen skates to play hockey on ice.

So our hockey is evidence, to outsiders, of our coldness, and with our coldness, our abnormal lack of sophistication, etiquette and probably humour. As I say, a thousand movies have been made to reinforce the stereotypes we use against ourselves.

Hockey becomes a kind of verification for outsiders and for ourselves, of how Canadians hate to be labelled in the first place, “Ottawa: colder than Moscow and without the night life,” the joke goes.

Contempt for ourselves is the axiom upon which so much of our country’s asses sit. Except the children. Except the children like Stafford Foley.

The children frolic in the cold like little white bears. Know what the game means. There is a time in every child’s life when he or she wants us to regain the game, to be recognized by everyone as the greatest hockey nation in the world.

Happy Hockey Day in Canada, everyone! Go out there and be like a little white bear!

Ciao!

Note: If you love hockey then you should read Ken Dryden’s The Game, which, along with Hockey Dreams, is in my estimation one of the greatest Canadian books.

Note** (Warning … Toronto Maple Leafs and Mats Sundin rant ahead): Today marks the return of Mats Sundin to Toronto in the uniform of some other team. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned he’ll always be a Toronto Maple Leaf regardless of where he goes or plays. Much has been made about his return and what the reaction will be. Based on the circumstances under which he left the team, the feeling is that there are many in Toronto who resent Mr. Sundin for not waiving his no-trade clause and for not returning to Toronto. Like I said before, whatever. I’m not going to go into all the gory details of the 2008 trade deadline and what Mats said or didn’t say and how each one of his words should be dissected and how he took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to decide to come back and play. Whatever. For thirteen years, he was an amazing Toronto Maple Leaf. Amazing. He delivered, he never did anything to embarrass us or our city, he was exciting to watch and he provided some genuinely thrilling hockey moments. For a team that has waited 40 plus years for a Stanley Cup, we should be grateful for the moments of hockey pleasure that we enjoyed thanks to Mats. And now he’s gone and as has been repeatedly noted by the media, he had every right to leave and owes Toronto nothing. Very true. But here’s what the media always forgets to mention. Toronto doesn’t owe him anything either. The fulfillment of the contract goes both ways. He fulfilled his contracts to us 110%. If every player fulfilled their contracts to the degree that Mats Sundin does, the NHL would be a truly awesome place. But … newsflash … the Toronto Maple Leafs also fulfilled their contract to him. And as fans we fulfilled our contract to him. SO NOBODY OWES ANYBODY ANYTHING HERE. I personally hope that he is cheered tonight not because “we owe him anything” but because it would be a nice gesture of appreciation for his 13 years of service. That’s it. Yes, Mats Sundin was a great Toronto Maple Leaf and yes, Mats Sundin is a great hockey player, but he ain’t no Wayne Gretzky or Rocket Richard. And there’s my two cents.

Note ***: For those of you that have been patiently waiting for the waffle recipe, here it is. I have a 4-pocket Belgian waffle maker and this recipe yields two 4-pocket servings. So in essence I end up with 8 2-inch waffles. And now I shall never do math again.

My Favourite Waffles
From The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp. coconut extract (you can use any extract you like or leave it out altogether)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (melt a little extra butter to use on your waffle iron)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar

You can use a mixer for this but you can also do it by hand with a whisk: whisk together the eggs, milk and extract until very foamy. If you can do it for a couple of minutes by hand, you’re a winner … otherwise use your mixer.

With a rubber spatula, mix in the melted butter trying not to deflate the egg/milk mixture too much.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar and then add to the egg/milk/butter mixture all at once. Again mix it in gently with the rubber spatula.

Let the batter sit for 30 minutes. Just before the 30 minutes is up, heat your waffle iron.

This recipe makes two servings of four 2-inch waffles in my waffle iron. So I use half the batter for one set and the other half of the batter for the second set. Based on the yield of your waffle iron, use the according amount of batter.

Cook the waffles to your specification (we like them somewhat golden but not too hard or crispy).

Serve with lots of butter, maple syrup and fruit.

Enjoy!