Hockey Day in Canada honours sport's greatest rivalries
The Leafs versus the Habs. Canada versus Russia. Crosby versus Ovechkin. Rivalries have been an integral part of the Canadian hockey landscape for as long as there have been skates to lace and pucks to shoot.
They play out in every corner of the nation, from frozen ponds to the most opulent NHL rinks and raise the game of hockey to a level that reaches well beyond a simple athletic pursuit.
On Feb. 21, Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada on CBC-TV honours the rivalries in Canada's great frozen game. Ron MacLean and former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark will be in the host city of Campbellton, N.B.
Rivalries help tell the story of Canada's game, and everyone involved in hockey remembers their big ones, says Clark.
"The Warman Wildcats and the Brandon Wheat Kings," he says. "That was hockey for us growing up. Everybody marked this game on their calendar and you could feel the buzz throughout the town, days before the puck dropped."
For MacLean it was his hometown Red Deer Rustlers and The St. Albert Saints that defined his love of hockey as a child.
"Not only was it a great rivalry, but it was the great players playing for both teams that made it so wonderful. The six Sutter brothers defined Red Deer hockey for years, while Mark Messier was the hero of the Saints.
"I believe the number one ingredient in the making of a rivalry is excellence. Regionalism and familiarity contribute heavily, but a great rivalry requires two outstanding opponents. Pat Butcher wrote in The Perfect Distance that 'Nothing becomes a champion like a rival.' So to find a great rivalry is to seek excellence."
For Clark, it was the emergence of a great U.S.-based rivalry during the 1990s between Detroit and Colorado that created the same feeling he experienced when playing the Montreal Canadiens.
"Right now, there's not much better out west than Detroit and San Jose," says MacLean. "This puts parochialism aside and relies upon a shared competitive history that extends from recent playoff matchups. In the East, I think it's Pittsburgh and Washington because of the strength of their star players like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin."
Whether big or small, rivalries are natural and lasting. They transcend regions, cities, players, coaches and fans. They're aptly described by MacLean as, "a highly potent blend of sole purpose and self control."
Tim Hortons Hockey Day in Canada is on CBC-TV on Saturday, Feb. 21, live from Campbellton, N.B., beginning at 12 noon ET.