Like all Canadians, I was born with skates on, so when I heard the news, four years ago, that the President of Turkmenistan had decreed that his petroleum rich police state would become a hockey superpower I was delighted and fascinated.
But Central Asia was a long way away, and I was delighted and fascinated with many things that day, as I am every day, so I thought little more about it until mid March of this year when my wife phoned home to report that she had been offered a promotion and transfer to the hermit state.
Six weeks later I found myself in the presence of the American Ambassador to Turkmenistan, a fine fellow named Alan Mustard. The Ambassador and I were sipping a cold one at a Sunday afternoon tailgater that was hosted by one of my wife’s work colleagues. Since Canada does not maintain an embassy in the former Soviet republic that sits on the southeatern shores of the Caspian Sea, I decided to pitch Mr. Mustard with a mad idea.
“Hockey diplomacy,” I said to the Ambassador, as I shook his hand for the first, and last, time. His eyebrows rose. He pondered. He looked me up and down, which he had done a week prior, when we passed each other, without speaking, at another event.
The other attendees of the weekly grill and swill were dressed golf club casual. As is my wont, I looked like a fat Steven Tyler impersonator trying to crash a frisbee golf party hosted by Snoop Dogg. Clearly, the Ambassador was taken aback by my garish garb. Nonetheless, his mind invited me to elaborate.
“I call it The TurkmeniStanley Cup,” said I, perhaps slurring the curious moniker (Canuckistanis are cheap drunks when imbibing in 100+ degree desert heat). Observing no objection, I carried on. “Every summer, the world’s hockey minnows, such as Mexico, Morocco, Malaysia, Mongolia etc. , gather here, under Turkmenistan’s cruel sun, and battle to be crowned the kings of global mighty mite hockey.”
The Ambassador seemed amused, and I bleated on. “Kids in all age divisions. Hockey is an expensive sport, even in Canada, far more so where ice is mostly something you put in cocktail glasses, so those little silver spoon kids are going to be the future leaders of their nations. They will form lifelong friendships, breaking down barriers to business and fostering diplomacy between disparate nations.”
Mustard, who is not a Colonel, did not have to say what he was thinking. The Ambassador was not thinking, “Dang! I wish I was in the kitchen, with a knife, so I could prevent this peacock from squawking any further!”
No, dear reader, the Ambassador is a diplomat. He does not think murderous thoughts. Mr. Mustard, Mr. Ambassador, who has heard every dumb Clue joke ever, was thinking, “That’s all well and good, old chap, but, pray tell, what the Dickens does that have to do with the United States of America?” Actually, that might be more like what the British Ambassador would be thinking if he’d been cornered by a fat, drunk colonist with a heedful of gibberish, but I call poetic privilege, so let’s move on, shall we? Jolly good.
I told the Ambassador that I grew up 40 miles from the Minnesota border, in Thunder Bay, which is, pound for pound, the best hockey town on Planet Ice. I told the representative of the American people that I’d carved up a fair bit of ice, and chased more than my share of puck bunnies, in the land of 10,00 lakes, when I was a youngster.
And I grudgingly admitted that my teams were bested when we traveled to tournaments in Edina, International Falls, Duluth, Grand Rapids… well, there’s no need to elaborate on this embarrassing confession any further, is there?
As he looked at his watch, I told the Ambassador that I’d spent an entire week watching the Minnesota State High School Hockey Championships on TV, every spring
I rambled on, as Mustard glanced at his time piece yet again, saying that I’d been envious, oh so envious, that kids my age were playing in front of 18,000 strong crowds at the St. Paul Civic Center. How, I wondered, could the inferior Americans get so many people to watch their brand of shinny? “Was it the cheerleaders?”
It was, by then, obvious that Mustard was wishing that he was a Colonel, and that he had me over the kitchen table, with a knife in his quivering hand, so I cut to the chase:
“All to say that I understand that Minnesota is a bona fide hockey hotbed, and the kids there love the game as much as kids north of them do. All those kids, on both sides of the border, need to understand the righteousness of hockey diplomacy as much as the kids in the world’s hockey minnow states, no? Of course they do,” I assured him.
“So,” said I, “we also bring in teams from Duluth and Thunder Bay, not to contest for the TurkmeniStanley Cup, but to play a little shinny and make friends.” And then, the coup de grace, the money shot for every free market loving, red blooded American, “It’s all sponsored by Coca Cola. The two best things in the world on ice – hockey and Coke,” I slurred in conclusion, as I drained my beer.
Ambassador Mustard’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to parse it all. Alas, the dashing diplomat hails from Washington state, and all that Pacific Northwest rain does not freeze when it hits the ground, so he just didn’t get it. Thus, the diplomat muttered something diplomatic like, “I’ll talk to my people about it.”
I was not convinced, but nor was I overly pessimistic about his promise.What I was was thirsty, so I I let Mr. Ambassador off the hook and ambled away to fetch another beer.
The following week I happened upon the Ambassador’s second in command at the embassy, another fine fellow named Paul Poletes. The South Dakota native had gone to university in Minneapolis. Surely he would fathom the genius, the simultaneous gravitas and beautiful absurdity, of hockey diplomacy, right?
Yes, dear reader, I am happy to report that he did, indeed. In fact, he seemed to love the idea, as did his compadres from the embassy.
So, why did the Golden Gopher ignore my follow up emails asking to parlez about the possibilities?
Sadly, good friends, it is my duty to inform y’all that my glorious scheme died on the vine because yours is still a nation of hockey infidels.
Y’all don’t have ice in your veins and vulcanized rubber in your heads. Hockey diplomacy is beyond your grasp. Your collective will is not strong enough to submit to a marriage with your chilly better halves and give birth to a global brotherhood of puckheads, because you can never fully embrace a spot that you cannot own.
Well, nor can we Canadian Lords of the Ice, so forget about Turkmenistan, and the rest of the world’s hockey wannabes, because it’s time to drop the puck in Toronto and get it on, already!
Go Canada go!
Editor’s note: The author informs me that he has not been able to sell his frozen fairy tale to any publication north of the border, not even to the august daily of the alleged best hockey town on the planet, leaving us to wonder, out loud, just how much the Canuckistanis really love hockey. Lacrosse, after all, is the official national sport of the Great White North. U S A! U S A! U S A!