Nationalism in the NHL

Matthew Di NicolantonioAnalyst IApril 16, 2008

As I sat down to watch Game 1 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins last Thursday night, I couldn't help but feel the nervous excitement of my roommate, a diehard Montreal fan if there ever was one.

I have vague memories of experiencing those same emotions before the start of every Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game. The memories are vague because I haven't been able to experience them for four years now.

Frankly, I miss that feeling, and I was extremely jealous that my friend got to experience the rush of playoff hockey while I did not.  There is something extremely magical about the playoffs.  The nervous anxiety every time the opposition crosses the blueline; the nervous excitement when your team registers a shot on goal.  Power plays, either way, are an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.

Most fans have secondary teams to cheer for in the playoffs if there team doesn't qualify or is eliminated early.  My group of friends, whether it is the influence of living with the Habs' diehard, have decided to jump on the bandwagon of this year's Eastern Conference Champions, even though we all bleed blue and white.

Most Canadian hockey fans will do this in the post-season.  Many claim they want to see the Stanley Cup "come home, where it belongs" and the nation has been in a frenzy for the last three post-seasons while riding the momentum of Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.  Is this year Montreal's turn?

I've always had some trouble falling immediately into the category of cheering for a Canadian team just because of where they play their home games. To me, the true Canadian teams are the ones stocked up with tons of Canadian players, like the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning,  and the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.

In 2006, I cheered against Edmonton because I had picked Carolina to win the Cup at the beginning of the playoffs, and wanted to see myself appear insightful, for once.  The Ducks are my second favourite team in the league, so it was a no-brainer to cheer for them against the hated Ottawa Senators last year.  Many of my friends who are Leafs' fans have admitted that they cheered on the Senators last year for the sake of the Canadian team, but I can guarantee that after a year of living in Ottawa, behind enemy lines, their tune would not be the same.

What I am curious, however, is to see why Canadian fans immidiately jump onto the bandwagon of other Canadian teams.  I enjoy watching and cheering for the Calgary Flames on a regular basis, and am pretty neutral in terms of cheering for Vancouver and Edmonton. If any of those three made it to the Cup Final, I would probably jump on board as well, provided they are not playing the Ducks of course. The Flames are another team my friends and I have gotten on board with this spring (in addition to any team opposing the Senators). 

I could never cheer for Ottawa success, they have too much history of hatred with Toronto for me to do that.  Montreal is different, as I said, probably because I live with someone who eats, sleeps and breathes Habs. I feel just as much involved with the team this year as a regular Canadiens fan.  If they advance to the Final, I will probably cheer them on, but be forever jealous of my friend for witnessing the jubilation that accompanies playoff success.

Another of my friends has told me that nationalism does not rank high with him in the playoffs. He cheers for his one or two favourite teams, followed by whichever team(s) of the year that are exciting. For instance, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche this season.  He also says that his fanship goes to the teams of which he has the most players in his playoff pool. 

So I am asking you, the readers:  If your team is out of the playoffs, do you automatically jump to another Canadian team for the sake of seeing the Cup come to Canada, and why? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.