If some American teams still competing for the Stanley Cup feel a little extra thrust of encouragement blowing in from the north, it’s probably due to the spike in support they get from Canadian fans who are cheering for them out of pure, unadulterated spite.
I love watching how Canadian hockey loyalties get divvied up this time of year. Basically, it comes down to two groups of people; you’ve got your passive fan who will pick up the cause of any Canadian team still in the championship hunt because it offers an opportunity to wave the red and white flag. These people tend to be somebody’s mom.
Then you’ve got your more biased observer, the one loyal to a team that’s been relegated to the sidelines already and who wants absolutely, positively nothing more than the Canadian rivals most closely linked to their team to taste defeat, too.
They’re the bitter, sour, sucks who can’t stand to see others succeed where their team has failed…and let’s face it; most of us hockey nuts fall in that category.
This type of mind frame is best exemplified by a native Albertan and Flames backer I know who once told me some frightening variation of, “I’d cheer for Hannibal Lecter if he was coaching against the Oilers.”
Canada’s federal heritage minister, James Moore, recently touched off a bit of a national debate when he proclaimed via Twitter that his hometown Canucks were Canada’s team. Some of his fellow politicians took exception to the notion, as did some members of the Montreal Canadiens.
What clouds the issue of hockey loyalty north of the 49th is the fact we’re all supposed to be in this together. Nobody expects a Boston Red Sox aficionado to get behind the New York Yankees in the World Series or fans of the Green Bay Packers to root for the hated Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. But it’s different in Canada because of our supposed collective desire to have the Stanley Cup come home.
It’s a wonderful theory that certainly sucks in some of those more casual watchers, but in my experience, only if there is a big geographical divide can you expect fans of one Canadian team to lend support to another that’s still chasing the Cup. Ontario was pretty Alberta-friendly in 2004 and 2006, when the Flames and Oilers each made runs to the final. But Canada’s most populous province was definitely not as unified in 2007, when Ottawa was one of the last two teams standing. In and around the capital it was Sens-mania, but away from Ottawa there were a lot of places Scott Niedermayer could have become mayor after he and the Ducks dismissed the Sens.
And therein lies one of my favorite dysfunctional dynamics about this whole affiliation affair. There are puckheads in Canada who will tell you they shed a sorrowful tear into their Tim Hortons cup every time Captain America, Gary Bettman, supports a Sunbelt franchise that should be in Winnipeg. But catch that same fan in the springtime when one of those tanned teams is playing his club’s hated rival for the Cup and you’d be stunned how quickly they can get on board with beachside hockey.
Nobody does cartwheels when their neighbor pulls up in a shiny new car that makes the old grocery-getter in your laneway look even more decrepit. And as much as Canadians are quick to unite over things like Olympic triumphs, the bottom line is when it comes to club team loyalties, most of us are far too invested in our own squad to ever hope anything good happens to yours.
Every Canadian hockey fan wants to see the Cup up close again soon; they’ve just all got a very specific site for the parade in mind.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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