Hockey history is a rich tapestry of traditions, trends, and innovations. Many stuck around to become part of the game’s enduring fabric. Others … not so much. Today we will look back at one of the odder things that used to be part of the NHL’s culture and wonder how exactly it made sense at the time and that everyone was OK with it.
Have you ever been in a fight with a Canadian? Probably not, since we’re generally a friendly and non-threatening bunch. But there are certain lines that you just cannot cross, like disparaging socialized medicine or saying you thought Shawn Michaels was better than Bret Hart, and crossing those lines can lead to the nearest Canadian setting aside the Margaret Atwood novel they’ve been pretending to read and throwing down.
And when that happens, you’ll notice that while fighting a Canadian is a lot like fighting anyone else, there are certain key differences. We apologize after every punch. We pause every few seconds to take a sip of our double-double. And, at some point in the fight, we are going to try to yank your shirt up over your head.
That last one may seem a little odd, but don’t worry; we’re just instinctively reverting to what we grew up with. That’s because every Canadian is raised on a steady diet of watching hockey, and for several decades, that shirt-yank move was standard operating procedure in any hockey fight. It even had a name: “jersey,” used as a verb. As in “I was losing the fight, but then I jerseyed him and went to town.”
Jerseying is rarely seen these days thanks to the introduction of the tie-down, a small strap that connects the back of a player’s jersey to the top of his or her hockey pants. Today, the NHL has a rule that makes tie-downs mandatory for any player who fights, so with only rare exceptions, you don’t see a player’s sweater come off during fights anymore.
And that’s probably good news, because man, the whole “jersey over the head” thing really did get progressively weirder over the years.