Roger writing the LAWmag
Feb 2014

The Gold Medal Law of Hockey

An entire state, that of Canada, sat back and relished in the unusual accomplishment of having won Olympic gold medals in the team sport of ice hockey in both the men's and the women's tournaments.

Given that the men's final was broadcast live in Canada at 4 o'clock in the morning in some parts of the country, many Canadians would have been catching up on their sleep later on that Sunday, February 23, right after the singing of the Canadian national anthem at the ice hockey arena in Sochi, Russia. On the following day, in the courtrooms across Canada as in the offices of those in the legal profession, a return to the work of law and justice required an adjustment to some sleep deprivation and a gradual reboot of compromised circadian rhythms.

Gold Medal Hockey LawEvery single member of the Canadian men's gold-medal team was a member of a professional club team back in the North America-based National Hockey League. They are all very wealthy but were not paid to play in the Olympics. It is their pro bono to the country.

Most of them returned to their club teams by chartered flights immediately after the gold-medal final. Each one is represented by a professional sports agent, many of whom are lawyers, who negotiate lucrative playing contracts. Those contracts are long legal documents but are almost always haggled over a single predominant clause: annual salary which, in the NHL, averages well over $1-million.

Underlying player contracts is another layer of private law, a complex collective bargaining agreement between even wealthier team owners and the players' union.

Behind the magical Olympic gold medal moments for one country, as behind almost every achievement in the economic, industrial or sporting lives in modern society, is a solid yet subtle foundation of law. Those that play the game recreationally in Canada are numerous. Their ranks include judges on the British Columbia Court of Appeal, some on the Supreme Court of British Columbia and other that sit on Provincial Court of British Columbia. To that, one can add hundreds upon hundreds of lawyers, all of whom like the aforementioned judges when they play the game, can recognize and adapt their game to the meaning behind the red and blue lines on the ice in the large blue semicircle reserved for the goaltender in front of each goal.

Law and order on the ice is not determined months or years later inside some dark courtroom. The play is regulated on-the-fly by referees, including the assessments of penalties for conduct which is outside the rules of the sport.

hockey barristerStill, far behind the gold medals around the necks of the players of both the men's and the women's Canadian gold-medal Olympic teams, is a discrete body of law. Reduced to its bare essentials, the law of ice hockey, at least to those who wear the Olympic gold-medal, starts with a statute of the Parliament of Canada called the National Sports of Canada Act, and this, at §2:

"The game commonly known as ice hockey is hereby recognized and declared to be the national winter sport of Canada."

Other filaments of law that support the sport of ice hockey include a formal legal definition proposed in the United States of America in the 1947 Minnesota case known as Modec v City of Eveleth.

Further filaments of law under the sport of ice hockey are spread throughout the legislative branch of government as well. Back in 1888, the British sent one of their peers to act as governor general of "the Dominion of Canada". Canada was then a colony of England, although given the recent rancorous split of the USA from their parent England, the more politically-correct term of dominion was then preferred for English colonies.

In any event, Fred Stanley, once peered, re-branded as "Baron Stanley of Preston", arrived in Ottawa to a small capital goo-gaga about a lively and exciting winter sport of ice hockey already organized into leagues. Stanley decided to donate a trophy for the annual "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup" and since then, the renamed "Stanley Cup" is given to the winner of the playoffs of the professional league, National Hockey League.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, the 60-year-old president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is a regular recreational ice hockey player. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, very recently released a book on the history of ice hockey entitled A Great Game ( The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, played ice hockey when he attended St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire.

Some retired professional players have entered the lawmaking arena such as the former Montréal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden, presently a liberal member Parliament, and other Canadian hockey legends, later members of the deliberative assemblies, Syl Apps, Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly. In Russia, retired former NHL defenseman Slava Fetisov is a member of the Russian parliament. Peter Stastny, another retired professional hockey player, is a Slovakian member of the European Parliament, representing a political party known as the "European People's Party (Christian Democrats)".

All goalkeepers shall wear a hockey helmet with a facemask ... constructed in such a way that a puck shall not get through it.Stastny is not a lawyer but his older brother Marian Stastny is, with whom Peter played professional hockey. Peter Stastny, along with another brother Anton Stastny, once experienced one of the most dangerous intersections of hockey and law: a secretly-planned defection from a communist state. At the European cup finals in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1980, when all three Stastny's were playing for the then Czechoslovakian hockey team, Peter and Anton defected and sought asylum in Canada (Marian joined them a year later).

There is now a "united nations" for ice hockey known as the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) with a unique compendium of rules and regulations.

Everywhere men and women and children chase after a very small rubber puck on a very large sheet of ice, all heavily armored, from the best in the world to tiny children who can barely skate, a whole infrastructure of law exists to ensure as best as can be done, not just strict law and justice but also fairness and order.

Tort law is one area where ice hockey gets a lot of attention especially the Latin maxim volenti non fit injuria. One case often cited is the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba decision in Canada Agar v Canning which included these wise words about ice hockey:

"Since it is common knowledge that ... injuries are not infrequent, this supports the conclusion that ... those engaged in this sport have accepted the risk of injury as a condition of participating.

"Hockey necessarily involves violent bodily contact and blows from the puck and hockey sticks. A person who engages in this sport must be assumed to accept the risk of accidental harm and to waive any claim he would have apart from the game for trespass to his person in return for enjoying a corresponding immunity with respect to other players. It would be inconsistent with this implied consent to impose a duty on a player to take care for the safety of other players corresponding to the duty which, in a normal situation, gives rise to a claim for negligence....

"The conduct of a player in the heat of the game is instinctive and unpremeditated and should not be judged by standards suited to polite social intercourse.

Ask any Canadian about the ice hockey results at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. It is unlikely they will extol on the dizzying array of law behind it because by design, that law is intended to remain dormant during play.

Unless you chance upon the rare sports attorney.

To the average Canadian, the conversation will turn immediately to the "best team winning".


  • Agar v. Canning, 54 W.W.R. 302 (1965))
  • Barnes, John, The Law of Hockey (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2010)
  • Modec v City of Eveleth 29 NW 2d 453
  • National Sports of Canada, Act, SC 1994, c 16

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