Like millions of others in the know, I see the NHL playoffs for exactly what it is: the greatest sports tournament on the planet. But there’s one aspect of the Stanley Cup chase that grows more embarrassing with every year.
I refer to the “Bring the Cup back to Canada because it’s our game and nobody else’s, especially the soft Europeans and frigid Russians and easily-pleased Swedes and largely-disinterested Americans” routine. That’s right – the same act that has the preposterous “No team with a European captain will ever win the Cup” corollary.
It is bloated, blinded, bleating hyper-nationalism – and frankly, it’s gotten sooooo old to me.
Honestly, I just don’t get it. The game is a global phenomenon, played by men and women from all walks of life. Why isn’t that sufficient progress for some Canadians? Which of Canada’s countless national insecurities dictates that allowing other nations into our oh-so exclusive club will somehow cheapen the experience?
Besides, don’t Canadians take great pleasure in pointing out the downside of the type of King-Kong-style, ain’t-we-great, chest thumping normally found in America? Isn’t it enough every other country on Earth would have to turn into hockey factories and pump out elite-level NHLers for decades before they could come close to matching Canada’s impact on the game?
Apparently not. Apparently, too many Canucks have been brainwashed into believing the big lies perpetrated every Saturday night, during every first intermission on Hockey Night In Canada.
Those poor souls have been convinced the game is a divider, not a uniter; that the “Them” in “Us vs. Them” are to be incessantly mocked, derided and sissified; that Canadians were, are, and will forever be, the straw that stirs the sport.
Pompous and delusional in the extreme, I know. Luckily, those falsehoods can be laid to rest once and for all simply by taking a brief look at the favorites to win the NHL’s individual player awards this season.
Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin is the overwhelming favorite for the Hart Trophy this year (if he doesn’t take home MVP honors, rest assured I won’t sleep until those responsible are smoked from their holes and brought to justice).
However, Ovechkin wasn’t the only non-Canadian who warranted consideration for the honor; two other Russians, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Montreal’s Alex Kovalev, also will received votes from the Professional Writers’ Association, and deservedly so.
Devils netminder Martin Brodeur may be the popular choice to claim this year’s Vezina Trophy, but he’ll get heavy competition from San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov (a native of Kazakhstan) and Rangers backstopper (and Swede) Henrik Lundqvist.
The Norris Trophy likely will be won by another Swede, future Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom. But Boston’s Zdeno Chara (a Slovak) and Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar (also a Russian) weren’t far behind the Red Wings blueliner.
As well, you can make a good argument for Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom as this year’s Calder Trophy winner and for Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg as this season’s Selke Trophy and Lady Byng recipient.
The Jack Adams Award for best coach may be the last Canadian-only award (with a nod to John Tortorella, the only non-Canuck to win it), thanks to the old boys’ network that has welcomed just two Europeans in history as NHL bench bosses. But that too will change, as the league runs out of flimsy attempts to explain the coaching fraternity’s troubling lack of diversity.
One of these years, every major award will be won by someone born and raised outside of Canada. When that happens, I’d love nothing more than to see my country’s remaining true-believers surrender their prejudice and begin to comprehend what the hockey community has become – a worldwide, interdependent collective that should be expanded and promoted, rather than guarded and hidden away.
I’m not confident such a transformation will happen, but there’s no doubt those Hosers in question need to let it go.
The game is not Canada’s; never was, never will be. Annually saluting ourselves for what’s obvious only turns Canadians into the braggarts and individualists the game’s conservative culture so deplores.
We’re better than that and so is hockey.
This column originally appeared in the edition of The Hockey News. For more great stories like this, pick up the latest issue on newsstands, buy it digitally or subscribe online.