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Good Old Days
By Dave Kiffer

February 19, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Once upon a time, I would have gone into serious withdrawal if the National Hockey League season was cancelled like just happened this week.

jpg Dave Kiffer Ketchikan

You already know - from previous columns - that I can't skate, so it's not that I grew up wanting to be the next Bobby Orr or Guy LaFleur. It's just that when I was growing up in Ketchikan in the 1960s and 1970s, hockey was about the only live televised sports that we got.

Those were the good old days when American television programming was taped for us in Seattle and then shipped up for rebroadcast on KATV, the local cable network. News programs were generally aired a week late. Entertainment and sports programs could be anywhere from two to three weeks late. We didn't complain because there wasn't much we could do about it.

Except watch the only live broadcast, the one - the CBC - from Canada. The one that treated hockey as a national event. I remember reading that most Saturday nights half the televisions in Canada were tuned to "Hockey Night in Canada." With the exception of the Super Bowl, no American sporting event draws more than 25 percent regularly.

And, as I noted, there were more than a few Ketchikanites tuned in as well. Hockey was certainly not going to replace baseball, basketball or football in the hearts of local sports aficionados, but it was live and it was a little more exciting to watch than that other great Canadian sport import, curling. You knew it was a really slow weekend afternoon if you spent it watching a couple of rinks duke it out for a Manitoba regional bonspiel.

Watching the Canadian hockey games also led a weird patriotic disconnect for some local grade schoolers. I remember our second or third grade teacher (it was either Mrs. McDonald or Mrs. Lovett, my memory fails me) discussing the national anthem. She discovered that a third of the class knew the right answer and a third didn't have a clue. The other third - about 8 kids - all north end boys - were convinced that the national anthem was "O Canada" because that was what they played before the hockey games on TV!

Teachers also had to deal with the occasional Alaskan youth learning on the Canadian station that words like color and honor had an extra "u" in them. And that events were held in a "theatre." I still have problems with that one. And of course there was that little bi-lingual thing going on even back then. The CBC would run whole programs in French in the afternoons and that was where I learned that the French-Canadian word for ketchup was....... uh, ketchup.

Before you think we were somewhat deprived by having to get our television "programming" from foreign - albeit next door - shores, it pays to remember that most of the programming on the CBC in those days was from the American network CBS. We saw "MASH", we saw "All In the Family", We saw "Maude." We didn't miss out on much. We did see some odd Canadian homegrown series like "The Beachcombers." And of course the Canadians were big on wacky British imports like "Benny Hill," "Faulty Towers" and "Monty Python."

We even got an only slightly Canadianized version of the US national news. Every evening at 11:00 pm (10:30 in Newfoundland!) There was a news program called "The National with Knowlton Nash (what a great Canadian sort of name). Nash would intone the days events with the same solemnity as Walter Cronkite, but you could almost see him arching his eyebrows ironically at some of the antics of "the Yanks."

On the other hand, the lead story was always Vietnam and it was presented in a way as though it was just accepted that it was the Canadian's war as well. And they always referred to "President Nixon." Not "US or American President Nixon." Apparently, he was their president too. After all, they only had a "prime minister" although there was no question that Pierre Elliot Trudeau cut a much more dashing figure any of the American leaders of the era. Can't imagine Pat Nixon cutting a rug at Studio 54 like Margaret Trudeau did. Betty Ford, maybe.

Which leads us back to hockey (how was that for icing!). Studio 54 was a victim of its own excess and so it seems is hockey. So the powers that be have shut it down in hopes it will come back as something else. In the meantime, I've moved on. I'm surfing the 342 live channels available now in Ketchikan for the 24-hour Canadian Curling Network.

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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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