When I first considered writing this column, I thought I might need a US-to- Canadian dictionary. But re-watching the timeless movie classic “Slapshot” put me in the correct frame of half a mind to address how beer and hockey have been connected over the years.
It is thought that hockey is nearly as old as beer, dating back to approximately 2000 BC, and the association with beer may also be ancient. The most important tool of the game, the stick, was originally a barrel stave. Some of the earliest versions of the puck may have been cow chips coated in pitch: pitch is the viscous tar-like substance that was used to line the vats and barrels of most breweries for centuries.
In modern times, the prize awarded to the world’s best team each year is the Stanley Cup. Each player on the winning team gets to spend time with the prize over the year, and you just know that a few brews have been quaffed from this flagon of fortitude. The Molson Cup is an award given to the Canadian hockey player who receives the most three-star votes during the season.
Breweries have owned teams and venues, and sponsored broadcasts. The Molson Brewery owned the Montreal Canadiens for years and the team played their home games at the Molson Centre in Montreal. The Quebec Nordiques were owned by the Carling-O’Keefe Brewery before it merged with Molson. In London, ON, hockey and other events are held at the John Labatt Centre. For years Canadians were glued to their TVs, as Molson brought viewers “Hockey Night” live from coast to coast.
South of the border, Iron City has regularly promoted the Pittsburgh Penguins, paying homage to the Civic Arena where the team plays, along with issuing a number of beer cans: one with a team schedule, one listing team awards and, of course, one to commemorate Mario Lemieux. Miller Lite honored the Detroit Red Wings’ victories on a series of beer cans, as well.
Don Rickles would be proud of all of the hockey pucks I have in my collection that advertise beer. One of the coolest items I have is a Labatt Blue windshield scraper, in the shape of a skate with a hockey stick shoved in it. The blade of the skate is the blade on the scraper. Molson produced a great tap handle, which is a full caged hockey mask on the end of a hockey stick. Labatt issued a similar design except with a hockey glove on their tap handle.
Another great artifact is a regulation-size Molson Ice hockey stick, complete with reinforcing tape. They also issued a great set of coasters in the shape of hockey pucks, which show an NFL team on one side and hockey trivia on the reverse.
Richard Squire, the founder of the Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado, scored with the brewery’s Avalanche Amber, when Denver named its team the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado’s fans may face off over the best micro to drink during the game, but Breckenridge has the name by a long shot.
I must have over two hundred team schedules issued by various breweries, with the Canadian breweries producing bi-lingual schedules. Now that the labor disputes of the NHL are behind us, it is time to start collecting the newest schedules of the 2007 season.
“Beer Dave” Gausepohl has collected breweriana since 1974 and has a personal collection of half a million items. He has visited over 1,500 breweries.