It's amazing the role sports can play in our lives. After tragedies, they unite us. During international competition, they breed national pride.
During the NHL playoffs, they should ignite the deepest, most passionate loyalties we hold. They should never bring out classlessness.
But they did.
During the Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins match up, the American national anthem was "barely audible because of boos and 'Go Habs Go' chants." Tim Thomas, the Bruins' US-born goaltender, wasn't surprised. "I thought when Obama got elected, they were going to stop doing that," he quipped.
Obviously, they haven't.
Putting aside for the moment that Les Habitants are one game away from being swept, booing the national anthem is never, never acceptable. It's classless and disrespectful, and it creates divides in a game that—in the context of the NHL—should be more about team pride than national superiority.
The Canadiens have three American-born players on their team—Christopher Higgins, Francis Bouillon, and Mathieu Schneider—in addition to their alternate captain Mike Komisarek. It’s a nice message to deliver that while you may accept them as Habs, you will still jeer their nationality.
If this were an isolated incident, one that could be chalked up to a few too many Molsons and not enough nachos, it would be easy to brush off. But it’s not. This has happened repeatedly, and not even front-office apologies or public service announcements can stop it.
So what’s with all the hate? The Canadian-American divide in hockey is nothing new. With franchises like the Nordiques and Jets being relocated to the south, it’s not surprising there is some animosity toward the United States.
Hockey is, and always will be, Canada’s national pastime. Like the Americans with basketball, Canadians introduced hockey to the world. By doing so, you let us in on an otherwise well-guarded secret—“these athletes, these players, this game, cannot be matched.”
And you’re never going to let us forget it.
The rampant pro-Canadian elitism in hockey needs to settle down. In a recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Jeff Blair openly campaigns for Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke to “rescue [John] Tavares from the obscurity that is the [New York] Islanders.”
Blair goes on to mock the idea that “the Islanders need Tavares or they will lose face, that somehow he will spearhead a hockey revival on Long Island and get an arena built.”
The best from Blair, though, is yet to come. “But the real question is this,” he writes of Tavares. “Why on earth would he want to play hockey on a team that is at best the No. 3 team in the area?”
Because John Tavares is a good kid. And because someone—even if it’s not the journalists or the general managers—has to believe in the purity of the game.
Could Tavares make money hand over fist in Toronto? Easily. He would be a bona fide superstar, but the notion that Tavares could only “maximize his earning potential and land endorsements” in Toronto is ludicrous.
Despite insistence to the contrary, there are American markets—the Islanders included—who would love to build their marketing strategy around such a talent.
The suggestion that Burke needs to intervene to keep the kid off the Island is insulting not only to Tavares, but to spirit of competition. If GMs are going to start buying teams, we’re going to see a return of the old, stacked NHL, the very opposite of what the new rules and collective bargaining agreement aim to accomplish.
The pro-Canadian sentiment that underlies Blair’s article is not to be taken lightly. Tavares is Canadian and he should be playing for a Canadian team—that’s the gist of it. That blatant elitism is as bad as booing a national anthem or insulting teams that deigned to be included in the 1967 expansion—it’s antiquated, childish and disrespectful.
The Canadian pastime is a beautiful thing. Instead of letting it start petty arguments about national superiority, let’s sing along with both national anthems and watch the draft picks fall where they may.
After all, rivalries should be raged across states and state lines, not national borders.
Save that for Vancouver 2010.