This season, it’s the Canadiens, Canucks and Flames who carry the burden of a nation’s expectations and for the next seven weeks or so, we’ll all be watching these three standard bearers night in and night out as they conduct a Canadian crusade to recover the most precious of national treasures. Even the national news on the public network will accommodate the unfolding plot.
And so it should, because in Canada there is little that matters more to the country’s sense of itself than the pursuit of what we believe is ours.
“Hockey is the Canadian metaphor,” wrote Bruce Kidd and John MacFarlane in their book The Death of Hockey. “The rink is a symbol of this country’s vast stretches of water and wilderness, its extremes of climate, the player a symbol of our national struggle to civilize such a land.”
Now, we focus on the three teams who have the chance to deliver on that tradition. The prospect is that they might save the country from a drought that is now in its 16th year. Many would say the last truly great spring harvest in Canadian hockey was in 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens claimed the Stanley Cup by defeating the Los Angeles Kings.
In each case, the three Canadian representatives in hockey’s current post-season present a storyline worth following and capable of universal allegiance.
The “Habs” are a national treasure and in their centennial year where they are astonishingly up for sale, wouldn’t it be fitting to have the lustre of former glory polished anew? The guardians of all that great Canadiens’ tradition still preside in Montreal … Beliveau, Moore, Cournoyer and Lafleur. It seems only natural to pin one’s hopes on a revival, although this edition of the, Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, is a long shot at best.
In Vancouver there is a long suffering hockey community with renewed vigour to think about. The Canucks have never won the greatest prize in hockey. They came exceedingly close in 1994, but ended up losing to the New York Rangers. Still, in exceptional goaltender Roberto Luongo, this talented club has the game’s most-coveted asset when there is so much on the line. And Vancouver is desperate for a champion on the eve of launching its duties as host of the Olympic Games next year.
As for Calgary, the story is all about the captain. Jarome Iginla is arguably the most complete hockey player on the face of the earth. The Flames’ leader is maturing; however, he still lacks the Stanley Cup having narrowly missed a few years ago when Tampa Bay was victorious. Chances like this one may not come with great regularity in the near future for one of hockey’s gifted pioneers. Jarome Iginla is a natural to play the part of national hero.
It’s all so hopeful, I know. But why shouldn’t it be?
The class I teach at the local community college is all about the culture of sport in Canada. The aim at the outset has been to make everyone aware that our sporting tradition in this country goes well beyond the national obsession called hockey. Still, when you get right down to it, hockey is what really matters.
It has the ability to capture our attention without fail.
And as we exit this interminable winter, there is so much more to attach to the game’s value. Even in light of tough times and an uncertain economic future there is a constant that hockey provides - a sort of backbone to our collective resolve.
The Stanley Cup playoffs always turn out to be a riveting national drama. As the first act begins, it’s essential to believe that in Canada, we are still at the centre of the plot.
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