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The Frazier Institute

The Puck Curve

As one admires the spectacular pyrotechnics and brutal competition of a professional hockey game, it is easy to forget that, despite the visibility of European and American stars, over 50% of the players in the National Hockey League (NHL) continue to be Canadian. This dominance by Canadian players is remarkable, considering that most NHL franchises are in U.S. cities, and that Canada's population is barely a tenth of the U.S.A.'s (without even taking into account the population of Russia and the other European hockey nations).

The traditional soft liberal explanation, of course, would be that this dominance is due to environmental and cultural factors - the tired old "they were made that way by society" argument. Such liberals are afraid to admit the truth: Canadians are genetically superior hockey players.

The liberal argument crumbles under close scrutiny. The first claim would be that Canadians are better hockey players on average simply because of environmental factors: in essence, Canada is colder. Water freezes all winter in most of Canada, and thus the environment is more conducive to playing hockey. Such a simplistic argument is easily dismissed. Large parts of the United States become as cold as Canada and are equally conducive to creating ice surfaces, and these winter-intensive regions have a total population that is greater than Canada's.

It is true that there is a greater concentration of ice rinks in Canada (about 1 for every 9000 inhabitants compared to about 1 for every 15000 inhabitants in the U.S.); but the difference is slight. Given the United States' much larger population, these statistics indicate that the absolute number of rinks south of the border is far greater than the number of rinks in Canada. If the environmental argument were true, there should be at least as many Americans as Canadians in the NHL.

Another liberal argument would be that historic factors dictate the dominance of Canadian hockey players. Hockey was invented in Canada and has deep historical roots in the nation, they would argue. This line of reasoning is equally easy to disprove. After all, basketball was invented by a Canadian, and should have been popular since it is an indoor winter sport. Yet Canadians are mediocre basketball players. Soccer was invented by the English and has deeper historical root there than in any other nation; and yet England does not supply the majority of soccer players in the world.

Finally, squishy liberals will fall back on the vague notion that hockey is a part of Canadian “culture” - that every Canadian boy grows up with hockey and that athletic Canadian children are more likely to focus on hockey. This argument could, perhaps, explain why Canadians were disproportionately represented in the NHL (say, 25% of players); but it cannot explain why an absolute majority of professional hockey players are Canadian.

Even in the early years of the NHL, there were twice as many American as Canadian teams (4 to 2), and with expansion in the last three decades, the proportion of American teams has continually increased. As a result, throughout the NHL's existence far more American boys have lived in hockey-intensive environments than young Canadians. In other words, a significant number of young Americans have always had as much opportunity and incentive as young Canadians to play hockey; and yet, Canadians continue to dominate the ranks of professional players.

With the environmental and cultural arguments in shambles, only one possible explanation is left: Canadians are genetically superior hockey players. Only a greater natural aptitude can explain why, despite equivalent environmental and cultural situations, over 50% of NHL players are Canadian, while only about 30% are American and 20% are European.

It is true that Canadians no longer dominate the league's elite. Only a few Canadians are among the league's top scorers, and Canada's national team has been unimpressive in recent years. Canadians are increasingly relegated to the third and fourth lines of NHL teams. This situation, however, far from undermining the genetic theory, in fact forms the final proof of its validity.

If "cultural" factors were the cause of Canadians' superiority, one would expect this superiority to be evenly spread out across the board: Canada's elite would dominate as much as its middle ranks. Genetic superiority, by contrast, is spread out along a bell curve. At the top end, all groups will produce a few outstanding individuals - and that is exactly the situation in the NHL, where there are a few top goal-scorers from every hockey nation. It is in the middle of the bell curve, where the forward curve of the genetically superior group is slightly in advance of other groups, that a genetic advantage should manifest itself; and indeed, in the NHL, it is in the middle ranks of merely competent players that the dominance of Canadians is most visible.

Thus, the uneven nature of Canadian hockey superiority is in fact proof that this dominance is due to genetic rather than cultural or environmental factors.

It will be up to scientists to work out the details of how this genetic hockey superiority developed in Canadians. For the moment, we should simply sit back and enjoy the performance of the Canadian hockey supermen who form the backbone of the teams battling for the Stanley Cup.

S.O. Farr-Wright

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