Canada and the hockey world lost a leviathan Wednesday when the musician and songwriter Stompin’ Tom Connors died at age 77. Despite living a hard and often unforgiving life, the man who wrote The Hockey Song gave a sport and a nation a wondrous collection of music that will live on long after all of us join him in the great beyond.
At arenas across Canada and around the world, you heard The Hockey Song Connors wrote and you instantly felt at home. The song – essentially, a narration of a hockey game – and the voice that sang it didn’t wrap itself around you with natural warmth, but it didn’t have to; Connors’ straight-ahead approach to songwriting, his everyday language, his pride in being Canadian and his ability to tell a story were the treats that drew you in and kept you coming back. And he even sounded like Hockey Night In Canada’s legendary play-by-play man Bob Cole.
No wonder he fit in so seamlessly with the hockey scene. Connors was the kind of guy you see in junior arenas all the time: quietly passionate; colorful and imaginative; sturdy and rough around some edges; weathered and wrinkled by the road and the cold, but tougher and more gracious because of it. In fact, if you took away his signature black cowboy hat and the cowboy boots and replaced them with a hockey team jacket and baseball hat, you easily could have mistaken Connors for a junior scout.
In his own line of work, Connors was very much a scout. He sang in dumps and dives from one end of Canada to another, the same way scouts travel to any and every tin-roof-rusted hockey shack in search of the next great hockey player. And Connors loved being Canadian as much as any elite player at the World Junior Championship or Olympics ever did; so many of his songs are based on real-life Canadian history, yet he was never overbearing with his nationalism. It was never about being from one province or city with him. He was a Maritimer by birth, but he was resolute and straightforward like a Westerner and he fought for social justice like a Quebecker.
And of course, Connors loved hockey. So it was easy to see why Canada embraced him so tightly and why his legend will only grow now that he’s gone. He represented the whole of our experience in this country. If many Americans didn’t understand the appeal of his quirks and imperfections, they probably didn’t understand hockey’s appeal either. And if they didn’t on either of those fronts, we didn’t give a damn.
Connors’ Hockey Song was and always will be Canada’s de facto national anthem, a song you can sing on almost any street corner by yourself and eventually find a few people to join in with you. It was played in the third period of every Toronto Maple Leafs game at Air Canada Centre – and the predictability of it could be somewhat grating at times for people who were in the building regularly. But really, there’s no way The Hockey Song shouldn’t be played at every professional hockey game, just as you want to hear Take Me Out to the Ballgame at every baseball park and Ave Maria at every cathedral.
So yes, we’ll miss Stompin’ Tom Connors. And we’ll celebrate his indomitable spirit a little bit every time The Hockey Song plays.
Although his biography will show that Connors was legally adopted by a Prince Edward Island family at age nine, it should show that he was adopted twice more after that: First, by a country. And finally, by a game.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.