TORONTO — Despite claiming citizenship in both Canada and the United States, U.S.-born Sister Helena Burns always pulls for the maple leaf in international hockey. The 2014 Olympics will be no different.
“For other sports I might cheer for America more (and) sometimes I just cheer for the country that looks the best or is doing the best in that sport,” she said. “But I think when it comes to the team sports, especially hockey, I have always skewed Canadian, even when I lived in the States. You guys refined the game and just made it what it is today.
“It’s your game,” she told The Catholic Register, a Canadian weekly.
Born and bred in Boston but now living in Toronto, Sr. Burns said hockey is in her blood. She thinks that might be because her late grandmother was from Quebec.
“Coming from Boston, it’s just presumed (that you like hockey) like mother’s milk,” said Sr. Burns, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul. “As soon as you can stand, they strap skates on you and send you out onto the flooded frozen backyard. Everybody just follows hockey or plays hockey.”
That being said, Sr. Burns quickly noted that she, and her entire family, are not “crazed sports people.”
“(Hockey) was just sacred in my home,” she said. “When I turn on a hockey game and I hear that sound of the ice … it’s transcendent. I always say that hockey is not a sport, it is an art form.
“It is like a chess game at lightning speed.”
But if you’ve ever watched a hockey game with Sr. Burns, which is when her Boston accent and the trash talking come out, you may think she meant transformative rather than transcendent.
“I never tear people apart except for with hockey. I just feel like it is totally legitimate,” she said. “I don’t swear, I don’t use profanity, but sometimes it gets really personal and I get way too heated and full of vengeance, and that is not good. I have gone to confession about trash talking.”
And while the soft-featured nun with pale green eyes has indiscriminately let her Boston bark rain down on players and teams across the hockey world, there is at least one player who has yet to feel her verbal wrath — Pittsburgh Penguins star and Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby.
“I love that Sidney Crosby is the captain. I think that is very exciting,” said Sr. Burns.
But there is one thing today that has Sr. Burns disheartened with the game.
“I am really upset with this fighting stuff that is going on, this brutality,” she said. “They have to find a way to stop this because it has just gotten mean.”
And that’s why Sr. Burns is so excited for Olympic hockey, where fighting results in a game misconduct and single-game suspension, which keeps the on-ice duke-outs relatively nonexistent.
“It is just great to watch pure hockey where you know that (fighting) isn’t going to happen,” she said. “It is just about the game.”
So come Feb. 13 when Canada faces off against Norway in its first game of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sr. Burns — who will be in Chicago where she lived for eight years before moving to Toronto — will be wearing her blue habit and Boston accent. Luckily for her, the nuns in Chicago, who lived with her during the Blackhawks’ past two Stanley Cups, are used to the yelling. Some of them might even watch the game with her.
“The nuns just know when it comes to hockey (I’m) in (my) own little world, and once in a while I make some converts of them, and they’ll stay and watch the game,” she said cheerfully.
“It is more fun when you are with people.”
And although she’ll be in the United States surrounded primarily by American nuns, Sr. Burns will be cheering, and praying, for Team Canada.
“It (hockey) has a lot to do with national identity, and you guys are so devastated when you don’t win. In Canada, ice is thicker than blood,” she said.
— By Evan Boudreau, Catholic News Service. Boudreau is a reporter for The Catholic Register, Canada’s oldest English Catholic weekly.