This year is the 20th anniversary of both the seminal NHL ’94 and the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Way back in 1993, the Montreal Canadiens, with Patrick Roy in net and Jacques Demers behind the bench, defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings in five games for their NHL-record 24th Stanley Cup as a franchise.
18 seasons have come and gone since then. Canadian teams have come close since — the Canucks made it to game seven of the Finals twice, the Flames and Oilers once each, and the Senators lost in five games — but haven’t been able to carve their names into the Cup itself.
As a result, every year around playoff time, the debate rages over who will be “Canada’s Team,” the marginally non-racist version of the “Great White Hope” that will battle for the pride of Canada and wrest the Stanley Cup from the evil clutches of the United States. For the first time since the 2005-06 season, there are four Canadian teams in the playoffs and thus four claimants to the throne. Who will be Canada’s Team? Who?
How about none of them, since the entire concept is idiotic.
This year, the debate started early, before even a single game of the first round. Kicking things off was none other than Jacques Demers, the coach of the last Canadian team to win the Cup. But he’s not advocating for the Canadiens as you might expect. Demers has instead claimed that the Toronto Maple Leafs are now “Canada’s Team” because they are a “blue collar” team.
In this instance, I suppose being “blue collar” means being terrible at your job and making a few talented people cover your ass week after week, while being lucky enough that your repeated mistakes don’t lead to a complete catastrophe that would get you fired. Personally, if I were a blue collar worker, I’d be insulted, but I digress. I take issue not with the idea that Canadian hockey fans should identify with a team that gets brutally out-shot night after night, relying on outstanding goaltending to survive the onslaught, but with the idea that there should be a team designated “Canada’s Team” at all.
Part of Demers’ reasoning is that he is seeing more and more Leafs fans in Ottawa:
“I work in Ottawa, and there are more people here talking about the Maple Leafs than talking about the Senators. Look: I won a Stanley Cup with Montreal. I will always be a Montreal Canadien.
“But what I am saying is, what is happening in Toronto is good for hockey and it is something the whole country could get behind.”
It seems to me that the real reason that Leafs fans are popping out of the woodwork across the country is that there have always been legions of Leafs fans, since they are a popular team — a combination of their rich history, the migration of Ontarians across the rest of Canada, and the fact that CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada has played a Leafs game every Saturday for the last 50-odd years. It’s just that there hasn’t been anything for Leafs fans to get excited about since before the 2005 lockout, so why would they make themselves known?
That Demers is relying on anecdotal evidence out of Ottawa, which is already notorious for its wealth of Leafs fans, makes it an even less reliable claim.
Actual fans of the Senators, however, are extremely unlikely to turn around and start cheering for the Leafs if the Senators are knocked out of the playoffs, unless they practice puck polygamy and cheer for more than one hockey team at a time, in which case they are dirty, rotten people who are barely fit to be called human and should be cast out of society for the good of us all.
Similarly, a Leafs fan isn’t going to start rooting for the Canadiens if they make it through to the Cup Final, no more than he or she would cheer for the Bruins. As for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, no Albertan hockey fan is going to cheer for a team in Ontario and they’re definitely not going to cheer for the Canucks, and Jets fans are too busy still riding the high of getting their team back to care about the playoffs.
Put it this way: does a Leafs fan care more about 1993 or 1967?
Do Canucks fans care more about the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup or about how their team has never won it? Most hockey fans are fans of a particular team to the exclusion of all others. They might still enjoy watching other teams play and may have a soft spot for another team or player, but when it comes down to it, they’re rooting for the success of one team and one team only.
Sure, there are some Canadian hockey fans who are extremely possessive of the Stanley Cup, asserting that it belongs to Canada and that every second it spends in the United States it is being sullied and tarnished. These people have a problem and should be avoided if at all possible. Even still, they’ll just end up cheering for whichever Canadian team makes it the farthest into the playoffs, so why bother debating the issue?
Besides, at some point all four Canadian teams will be knocked out of the post-season and these same people will switch allegiance to whichever American team has the most Canadians on the roster, particular good-ol’-Ontarian-boys-thumbs-up.
The only team that is actually Canada’s Team is Team Canada, and they’re not in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, they’re playing in the World Championship and no one cares. So let’s give the whole “Canada’s Team” debate a rest, shall we?