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William Houston's take on Hockey Day in Canada:

Hockey Day in Canada goes heavy on schmaltz

If you woke up with a tummy ache yesterday, well, it's understandable. When the entrĂ©e consists of sugar and syrup over 13½ hours, it can happen.

And if you had a bad dream about outdoor rinks and small-town arenas closing in you, that's hardly a surprise, either.

The feel-good programming of Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday accomplished everything it set out to do, but it was also repetitive and, at times, tedious.

After a while, you wanted to yell: "Enough. I'm tired of the smiling faces and happy accounts, and here-we-are-and-isn't-this-wonderful message."

Was there nothing else to say?

Here's how one journalist, who is hockey fan, put it in an e-mail message: "Anyone landing here from another planet seeing this would think we were a nation of 32 million, each and every one of us living in a small town, volunteering all day long, loving our fathers and able only to say, 'This is what it's all about.' "

Ron MacLean did yeoman's service as the host of the day-long show. The features were inspiring, moving and slick. And there were no technical problems that we noticed.

But this was the idealization of grassroots hockey, a game without issues or problems, aside from perhaps the decrepit condition of an outdoor rink in Montreal. A piece on the Boston Bruins' Glen Metropolit, who grew up in the Toronto neighbourhood of Regent Park, touched on the challenges confronting urban poor kids, but just barely.

The CBC needs to balance the Hockey Day fluff with journalism. Or is everything in the game, as Hockey Canada and the establishment media would have us believe, so perfect there is no need to ask questions or criticize?

From the CBC's perspective, Hockey Day primarily serves as a promotional vehicle for hockey, for which the network has, starting next season, about $100-million a year invested in NHL rights.

It is therefore important for the CBC to sell the game as important to the country. And to make the case that hockey is part of our soul and embodies all good things.

But, perhaps, during the network's homage, there is room for a report that doesn't invoke a happy face. Surely, there are subjects worth looking into, whether it is bodychecking for kids, shots to the head starting in minor hockey up to professional hockey or the steep dropoff in participation after the ages of 12 and 13. Are eight-year-olds still playing too many games and receiving too little instruction?

The CBC would argue Hockey Day is about telling the good news stories. It is the one day of the year set aside to celebrate the game.

But when do the other stories get told? Certainly not on the parent show of Hockey Day, Hockey Night in Canada, which airs features consisting almost exclusively of profiles and human interest stories. Issues, assuming the establishment is wrong and there are some, are rarely if ever reported in a serious way.

The point that should be important to the Hockey Day producers is that strong journalism will enhance rather than diminish the telecast. Good news by itself, after all, is a pretty bland offering.

With the Vancouver Olympics two years away, it might have been interesting to hear some analysis, aside from the usual excuse making, of what went wrong with the men's team at the Turin Games in 2006 and what to expect in 2010.

Doom and gloom shouldn't prevail on Hockey Day, but a dose of reality would be a welcome counter to the image of the game, largely mythologized, that Hockey Day presents.