To me, Canadian hockey culture consists of a strong history of excellence in the NHL and on the world stage, including a women’s hockey team which is one of the most dominant in the world. It includes riots in downtown Montreal whenever the Habs win during the playoffs. Maybe even NHL commentator turned left-wing-pinko-hater Don Cherry. But not cheerleaders.
Apparently, I’m not alone on this because over the years as the presence of female cheerleaders in American NHL arenas continues to grow (today 23 of 24 American NHL teams have squads), Canadian arenas have remained 100% free of such activity.
Well, until recently.
This month the Edmonton Oilers became the first Canadian NHL team to have a cheerleading squad, the Oilers Octane. Website stipulations clearly stated that they were looking for “athletic girls in good physical condition” and, not surprisingly, listed “cheer, dance and gymnastics experience as helpful but not required.” Over 100 women tried out for the 19-person squad.
Why cheerleaders and why now? Well, according Oilers President, Patrick Laforge, cheerleaders are now required to “enhance the in-game experience.”
Someone should ask what Laforge is trying to sell here – hockey or women? I’ve been to a few NHL games and the crowd has never required a pom-pom squad to lead in cheer or pump up the energy. If the Oilers are having difficulty bringing in fans, why not lower ticket prices to make it more accessible? Or maybe focus on building a team that is good enough to attract an audience – that last point might be the Torontonian in me coming out.
Once again, I’m not alone on this. Since the announcement about the Oilers Octane, controversy has abounded. There is an online petition created by an Edmontonian who, much like myself, believes that scantily clad cheerleaders on the ice is not part of the hockey culture in Canada. So far, her petition has garnered over 1500 signatures. Consider signing.