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Hockey is our game – Coleman’s book « Douglas Fisher



Hockey is our game
Source: by Jim Coleman, Hockey is our Game

Charles Hay was succeeded by Douglas Fisher, who remained as chairman of Hockey Canada until 1977. Fisher has long been one of the most compelling figures in Canadian public life. He was catapulted into national prominence in June 1957. As the C.C.F. candidate for the riding of Port Arthur in the federal election, he scored a stunning victory over the Rt. Hon. C. D. Howe, the bellwether of the Liberal Government. Fisher, who was re-elected in 1958, 1962 and 1963, was an exceptionally able Member of Parliament, whose frequent speeches in the House of Commons seldom failed to attract press gallery attention. He was a persistent goad to whatever party was in power and, indeed, he occasionally skewered his own party, of which he became deputy-leader before he decided to retire from active politics in 1965.

By the time he left the House of Commons, this large, energetic man had achieved added national recognition as a political columnist and television commentator. Fisher had started writing a column for the Toronto Telegram in 1963. After the Toronto Telegram ceased publication, his columns appeared in the Toronto Sun and were syndicated to more than 25 other newspapers. A sports-follower since childhood, Fisher developed an increasing preoccupation with athletics, particularly the history of Canada’s sporting heritage, as he grew older. In addition to his involvement in newspapering, television commentating and various consulting assignments, he found time to collaborate with Stephen Wise on the massive volume, Canada’s Sporting Heroes, which is, unquestionably, the definitive compilation of sports history in this country.

As co-authors of the Task Force Report, Fisher and Wise felt that sports had been an unjustly ignored aspect of Canadian culture. In the preamble to the Task Force Report, they wrote, “Sport is one of the few dimensions of Canadian life in which truly national folk heroes have been created and constantly are being created.”

Fisher probably was the intellectual conscience of Hockey Canada, although he would brush off such an easy categorization. Because he is a large man, physically, and because he takes puckish delight in projecting an aura of irascibility, some people have found him to be intimidating. The truth is that he has a sparkling sense of humour, and he is, himself, one of those sporting “characters” about whom he has written with affection. Among other things, his Hockey Canada colleagues have found him to be an usual and entertaining travelling companion.

While other men are inclined to pack an elaborate wardrobe for a two-week trip to a world hockey tournament, Fisher’s most important piece of luggage is his flight bag. This flight bag contains approximately 14 paperback books – one for each day of the journey. Before the plane even takes off from Canada, Fisher is reading a book. He must be short-sighted because, invariably, he holds the book about six inches from the end of his nose.

He is a gourmand who will attack his victuals at the most unlikely hours. On the Team Canada tour of 1972, he and Chris Lang were room-mates. Completely exhausted after the flight from Moscow to Czechoslovakia, they crashed in their bedroom at the Yalta Hotel on their first night in Prague.

Lang recalls waking in the middle of the night to see Fisher sitting up in bed with a book poised near the end of his nose. As he sat there, reading, his room-mate was also enjoying a nocturnal snack of smoked herring and a huge slab of rich chocolate cake.

Fisher doesn’t waste time on in-flight meals. If the airline serves a filet mignon for lunch, he is likely to split his luncheon roll down the middle, insert the filet between the two sections of bread, and consume this meal without taking his eyes away from the book held in his other hand.

Fisher and Alan Eagleson were wildly dissimilar in personality and style, but they worked together very effectively. It was their joint efforts that persuaded the IIHF countries of Europe to participate in those successful Canada Cup tournaments which began in 1976. Although I never had the good fortune to witness Fisher and Eagleson having a one-on-one argument, it must have been quite interesting – something like a grizzly bear being harassed by a cocky fox terrier.

Doug Fisher’s contributions to hockey have been long-lasting. Among other things, he was a visionary who was among the first to espouse the theories of Lloyd Percival, the ignore Canadian genius who wrote the Hockey Handbook. Coaches in the National Hockey League paid no attention to Percival, but his theories were embraced rather extensively by Anatoli Tarasov, the architect of successful Soviet hockey. Strangely enough, in his voluminous writing about the game, Tarasov never has bothered to mention any debt to Percival.

Fisher was such an integral component of Hockey Canada, from its very inception, that his colleagues regretted his retirement from the chairmanship in 1977. Fisher explained his departure saying: “We had accomplished most of the things which I regarded as our objectives. We had achieved open-competition between our professionals and the Europeans. We had persuaded the Europeans to come to our country for the Canada Cup. And, finally, we were beginning to infuse North American hockey with European techniques and European analyses.”