It's amazing to see some of the old films that were produced under the National Film Board of Canada's umbrella. We saw the amazing footage of the build-up to the Quebec Nordiques' first game in the WHA through Pierre Letarte's film Just Another Job. Hockey history was captured on film by Monsieur Letarte as the Nordiques franchise was shown from their earliest days through to their very first game. Films like these are treasures, in my opinion, because they are remnants of the past that still exist today. With the NHL failing to recognize the WHA's existence, it is films like this that allow us to see the past in all its Technicolor glory.
Today, we'll take a look at another amazing historical piece produced by the National Film Board. This film, entitled Thunderbirds in China, was directed by Les Rose in 1974, and is a fascinating documentary portraying the Western world's values in comparison to the Eastern world's values as the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds travel to China to play hockey. The exhibition games between UBC and China show a marked difference in the way these two teams play hockey, and serve as a reminder as to how different we were as societies 36 years ago.
If you have 57 minutes and 51 seconds to spare, check this amazing video out. There are so many interesting things to witness over the next hour.
- In 1973, China finished fifth out of eight teams at the World Championships by beating France and Great Britain. The Chinese government wanted to see the team improve, and agreed to allow the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to send one team over to China to tour the country and help the Chinese players get better. The Thunderbirds were the chosen team, and this film is the result of that agreement.
- The first thing you may notice, aside from the uniforms worn by the teams, is that the narrator calls the Chinese capital "Peking". The city's name never officially changed at all. The Western world called it "Peking" after hearing the pronunciation of the city's name. However, when translated, the name is actually Beijing. Since the mid-1980s, the Chinese government has insisted that all official references to the country be made using "Beijing".
- Check out the chin protection that the Chinese players are wearing at the 6:12 mark. That protector covers the entire lower jaw! Anyone know what that kind of protector is called? I have no clue, and it's the first I've ever seen of that kind of protector. You can see a great view of it at the 6:37 mark.
- Take a look at what the goalies are wearing as masks at the 6:19 mark! It's a regular helmet with a very crude face shield underneath! Wow. Huge difference in equipment between the UBC players and the Chinese players.
- Check out this line at 17:21 by a gentleman by the name of John Burns, speaking in regards to the Chinese lack of physical contact: "... bodychecking is, uh, not only politically, but culturally, a very difficult thing for them to accept." That's a pretty profound statement.
- It appears that the UBC Thunderbirds were playing outdoors in China before it became insanely popular in North America. Check out the outdoor practice at the 21:30 mark in Harbin, China. Anyone feel like that picture is watching them?
- If you caught the line spoken by the Thunderbirds player at 30:14, there were 17,800 people watching the outdoor practice at 11am! That's pretty incredible!
- If you're squeamish about needles, skip over the 36-minute mark. The Chinese man has lost his voice, and the Chinese doctors use an unconventional way to bring his voice back.
- At the 37:50 mark, we hear the Canadians ask about pollution. In 1974, we were aware of the problems, yet we're still fighting the issue today in 2010. Doesn't that ring a bell for anyone?
- At the 40:41 mark, you can see the Chinese goaltender with a more conventional mask. Hockey is beginning to look like hockey again.
- Check out the men with brooms at 50:54. As the narrator states, "it is a high honour" to sweep the rink. We have a slightly different perspective in North America as normally the players shovel rinks to play.
- As the narrator states at 52:09, in the seven games that the Canadians played in China, they went 7-0 while outscoring their opponents by a 56-5 pace. The scores of the seven games were: 7-0 vs. Chinese national team; 5-0 vs. Chinese national team; 9-2 vs. Harbin; 14-1 vs. Qiqihar; 5-1 vs. Heilongjiang; 8-1 vs. Kirin; and, 8-0 vs. Kirin.
- Listen to the UBC coach at 55:14. He speaks of what the Canadian boys have learned from his perspective, and it really goes to show how hockey can bridge gaps between cultures. That is a pretty impressive lesson that has been taught. Yes, he's sitting in a bathtub while talking thanks to his team delivering a bit of a hazing.
That lesson is the most important of all!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!