In Sunrise, Fla., Stanley is out of work. The acrobatic mascot of the Florida Panthers has no one to entertain as the arena stands empty. The NHL lockout is beginning to bite.
Across Canada, TV networks are scrambling to fill air time. One is showing sports themed movies, another is asking you to pick your best games from yesteryear and another has resorted to showing junior hockey to cover the void.
I miss Movie Night in Canada. When I first arrived in November 2004, there was also no hockey. Knowing no better, I looked forward to a Saturday night in with my wife and a selection of silver-screen classics provided by CBC. It was nearly a year before Don Cherry and his outlandish wardrobe first appeared in my living room.
Eight years on -- no hockey, no problem -- we have plenty to discuss. If Canadian soccer is ever to crawl out from under the rock of media obscurity and into the daylight, this is the moment.
The limelight must be grabbed with both hands. It is an unprecedented opportunity to engage those Canadian sports fans who are somewhat indifferent to the sport except once every four years when wall-to-wall World Cup coverage seeps into the psyche.
During that month, we revert to tradition. Naturally, we allow our heritage to dictate which nation to follow -- be it Italy, Portugal, Brazil or any number of other countries which have spent two years merely trying to qualify. Canada does not enter into the equation since it never qualifies, so we can support our country of choice guilt-free and announce our devotion by attaching a flag to our vehicle.
But what if Canada did make it? What if the moon and stars aligned and the proud Canadian maple leaf was part of the opening ceremony in Rio? Would we then, finally, acknowledge it is more relevant and topical to discuss soccer than another day of NHL inactivity? Would we actually change the flag on the car?
Don't worry. You probably won't have to choose.Canada faces make-or-break moment
Canada is facing a make-or-break moment in the qualifying cycle. A home game against Cuba in Toronto must first be won. If that is achieved, as frankly it should, it all comes down to a winner takes all confrontation in Honduras early next week.
Canada has the talent, the motivation and even the support to beat the Cubans. Scoring goals, a perennial problem for Canada, remains an issue and, even without the talismanic Dwayne De Rosario, who's injured, the Canadians have enough quality to get the job done.
Then it's Mission Improbable. A place in the final qualifying round, a.k.a. The Hex, will be at stake in San Pedro Sula next Tuesday night. Cue the manic strings (think Psycho) as Canada's plucky voyageurs march into the hostile, intimidating atmosphere of a hot Honduran night -- unwelcome guests at a crowning ceremony for a team of homecoming heroes.
Whoa, hold everything. Honduras isn't that good.
Remember when they came calling in June? I was shocked to see how far they had fallen in the two years since they made it to South Africa in 2010. The performance was anything but convincing and only wayward finishing from Canada let Honduras off the hook, allowing them to escape with a point they barely deserved.
We can and should expect Honduras to be better at home. But let's not concern ourselves that Canada cannot get a positive result. The Hondurans are not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination and they will be just as concerned as Canada. Two teams in the same boat and playing for one prize means nerves will be a factor and cool heads will be essential.
Let's not focus on what could go wrong. How about we, as fans, and the players, as our ambassadors, expect to reach The Hex for the first time since the 1990s? Do a professional job against Cuba, then adopt a Canada-do attitude in Honduras. We know it's doable. We saw it in beating Panama only a month ago and a similar performance is called for.
The defending must be smart and resolute without being reckless, the midfield must work like dogs to deny space and create what sparse chances there will be and the attack must be clinical, patient and switched on for the limited opportunities on offer.Judge team when it's over
When it is over then and only then can we judge. If we, the supporters, and they, the players, can look in the mirror and admit everything possible was done to make it happen, maybe, just maybe, it will indeed have happened.
I feel sorry for Stanley. I really do. Through no fault of his own he has lost his job. On the brighter side, Stanley (or the guy inside the suit) will likely be re-hired when the NHL lockout finally comes to an end.
For Canada, there will be no such reprieve. If it crashes now on the Road to Rio, don't expect a tow truck to turn up any time soon.
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