By Aaron Wrotkowski
With the Conferences Finals for the Stanley Cup set to begin on Sunday, it seems that NHL viewers have been captivated by the Cinderella run of the Montreal Canadiens. Defeating the President’s Trophy winner and the defending Stanley Cup champions with a game strategy that seemed to put most of the pressure on a hot goaltender and well instructed defencemen seemed to be a strategy for disaster in the post-lockout National Hockey League, but it has pushed the Canadiens to be the only team left in the hunt for Lord Stanley from up north. This has led to many fans from Canada abandoning their eliminated hockey clubs to cheer for the Canadiens as “Canada’s Hope” for their first Stanley Cup since 1993. Won by who? The Montreal Canadiens.
It would be a good time to sit back and think about that concept. Unlike the FIFA World Cup in soccer, the NHL is a North American sport that has absolutely no territorial lines. It is teams representing cities, not countries. When you look at a team like Detroit, with a rabid fanbase in Windsor, Ontario, you cannot really call it just an American cheered hockey club. However, when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, thousands of Canadians change allegiances to bask in some form of Canadian patriotism in hopes to see Lord Stanley get paraded on a Canadian street.
We can ignore the fact that Heritage Minister James Moore anointed the Vancouver Canucks as “Canada’s team” only for them to be eliminated in decisive fashion by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. We can also ignore the fact that CBC has a tendency to show Toronto Maple Leafs games over the Canadiens, simply because all Habs games are shown on rival RDS. While Montreal isn’t ignored as much as the Ottawa Senators, it never really gets a fair shake at how much the team is beloved all over North America, let alone Canada. It seems no matter what time of the year it is, you can find hundreds of Canadiens fans chanting “OLE OLE OLE” in every NHL arena when the Habs come to town. Comparisons to the New York Yankees are fair in this respect, but if you notice, nobody in Major League Baseball calls the New York Yankees, “America’s Team”.
The truth is the Canadian patriotism towards a Canadian based team winning the Stanley Cup is misguided. It has nothing to do with the tradition of the Cup. If the Cup is supposed to come to Canada, then I guess only amateur players are supposed to win it as well. Canada winning a Gold Medal in hockey at the Olympics should have been quite enough to satisfy their thirst, but I guess ignoring the Americans, Slovaks, Russians and Belarussians on the Montreal Canadiens works for them to hope for a Cup in Canada. While I have no issue with bandwagon fans, as cheering for the Canadiens shouldn’t need a registration form, cheering for them simply because you want to see the Cup back in Canada is unreasonable. There is a Canadian player on all thirty NHL clubs, and if one of them wins the Stanley Cup, the Cup always comes back to Canada with those players for a day.
If the Cup comes back to Canada with the Montreal Canadiens pulling out the biggest upset in sports for the new century, it won’t be a win for Canada. It’ll be a win for the city of Montreal and the 25th win for the Montreal Canadiens hockey club. If anyone can claim ownership of the Cup, it’s the city of Montreal. If you ever looked at the Cup, it says “Montreal” in the winner category 51 times, and “Canada” zero times. Maybe it would be a good time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey, that way at least Canada can see some sort of Cup return to Canadian soil.