Taken on its own, the comment recently made by Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli seems relatively harmless.
Â“Sorry, Canada!Â” Samueli told the assembled throng at Anaheim's Stanley Cup celebration. Â“Welcome to the new Hockeytown: Anaheim, California!Â”
However, in the larger context of what always happens in the NHL playoffs, Samueli's soft, playful jab represented another instance of the misdirected nationalism that never fails to inject itself into hockey circles.
Frankly, I'm as sick and tired of that kind of nonsense as I am of the ceaseless debate about officiating. I certainly don't blame Samueli for getting swept up in the emotion of a championship party, but it's high time hockey people got over their fixation about citizenship and its relation to the game.
As a Canadian, I'm saddened to acknowledge most of the nationalistic lip-flapping originates from my fellow Great White Northerners. It's especially ironic to me, given that many of us Canucks take great delight in turning up our noses at the chest-thumping pride-a-thon many Americans have turned into a lucrative industry.
Yet there we are, allegedly humble hosers, talking smack about Â“our game,Â” Â“Canada's teamÂ” and Â“the Cup coming homeÂ” year after year. It is tedious in the extreme, not to mention hugely insulting to those non-Canadians who've embraced the sport and wish to see it prosper in their homelands.
I've got news for those who would prefer shielding the game rather than sharing it: Hockey belongs to no country. It was not invented as a tribute to Canada, nor does it come off as inherently more entertaining when Canadians are the ones playing it.
To suggest otherwise is arrogant, shortsighted and just plain wrong. Nevertheless, the nationality angle pervades nearly every issue facing the NHL today.
It is alive in the rapidly unfolding Nashville Predators ownership saga, with Canadians (and southern Ontarians in particular) unable to contain their glee over the prospect of a seventh team in the country, conveniently forgetting the pain involved in losing two teams to the U.S.
It is in every discussion about American franchises located anywhere beyond the eastern seaboard. And it is in arguments over the modernization of the game, with Canadian fundamentalists unable to restrain their disgust at any and all attempts to reach the casual (read: American) fan.
Forget the reality that Â“casual fansÂ” in this day and age also refers to young Canadian kids who have grown up with infinitely more recreational options than any generation before them. Ignore the stereotype that children of Canadian immigrants will all grow up loving sports like soccer and cricket more than a game played on ice. The hardcore Canada-First hockey type arrived at this conclusion thanks to a dangerous combination of good-natured passion and beer commercials; as such, he cannot be swayed from his stance.
The ugly side of nationalism was on full display during the Stanley Cup final. If you weren't poring over theses on the Senators as Â“Canada's Team,Â” you were reading extensively about the sizeable number of Canadian players who comprised the Ducks roster. And if you weren't immersed in either of those two must-reads, you were picking up your jaw after processing Chris Pronger's post-season comments about the dastardly Canadian media and their mysterious ability to make him temporarily lose his mind and throw elbows at anything that moved on the ice.
(Full disclosure: I am a full-dues member of said group of dastards. Skull & Bones ain't got nothin' on us. Booga-booga, etc.)
Do you truly think Teemu Selanne ached to win a championship any less than Travis Moen? Do you honestly believe Chris Phillips was any more crushed after the final than Daniel Alfredsson?
Get serious. The agony and ecstasy hockey provides registers the same way in everyone who loves the game without condition.
Canadians, the good people of Detroit, and Henry Samueli can say whatever they please. But the fact is that no country, city, clan or corporation can lay claim to the title of Hockeytown.
All hockey fans reside within the same city limits, whether or not we choose to recognize the value of our neighbors.
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