Why this Phoenix thing has Canadians mad

Sunday, August 9, 2009

So I knew my previous post about wishing for a separate league for Canadian teams would raise some hell. I was sort of prepared for it. But I wasn't exactly prepared to be told that I was acting like a bit of a snob about the sport. It surprised me because I never considered myself a hockey snob before. As far as most Canadian fans go, I always thought I was very open. But upon thinking about, I had to admit that I was coming to this issue with a certain bias. It got me thinking about what hockey meant to Canadians and why we were so upset over this issue.

Even before I started following NHL hockey, I grew up hearing about hockey. I grew up with this belief that hockey somehow our sport. Regardless of whether I watched it, it was still my country's sport. It was still something that country did. It didn't necessarily mean that we were always the best (although we really wanted to be) or that other countries shouldn't be allowed to play the game. But there was this underlying belief that we Canadians had some type of special connection with the sport. I'm not saying that we're right to hold these beliefs but that's the way it is around here.

Canadians are not blatant about their patriotism. That is a fact. We do not often go on TV and start saying things like "We're proud to be Canadian" or similar things. We seem to find it slightly distasteful. However, there is one thing that pretty much every Canadian will get behind. And that is hockey. When I got into watching the Habs, I wasn't at all prepared for the legions and legions of fans of the team. I was quite honestly shocked. Having the whole city back a hockey team seemed crazy to me (who always seemed to get into things that nobody else seemed to like). But it was crazy awesome. It was crazy awesome that people of all kinds of different backgrounds would get together and talk about this team. I met people from Germany and the UK - people who hadnt' really heard of hockey before coming here - who watched the team. Look at poor Nazem Kadri, the Leafs top draft pick this year. His family is from Lebanon. His grandparents had never heard of hockey before. Apparently they know all about hockey now and they watch him all the time. Hockey is something that Canadians - who generally prefer to keep to themselves - will actually bond together over.

Now bring in Gary Bettman. Since Bettman has been commisioner, four teams have been added to the NHL (two appeared to already be in the works just before he came in) as well as four teams have been relocated (two from Canada). With the exception of the Wild, all these teams are in non-traditional hockey markets. Dallas, Phoenix, Nashville, Tampa Bay.... these cities dont' even get snow (and no, it's not exactly a sticking point for Canadians but it sums up our feeling about these teams). But it's not necessarily the untraditionalness of the franchise locations that's irksome to Canadians.

I think there really is a feeling that "our" sport is being taken away from us to a certain degree. We see all these teams going into markets in the USA. We see OUR teams leaving OUR country for the USA. We have to sit by and watch as our former teams either gain success in another place (like the Avs) or struggle epically to get people in the building (like the Coyotes). We see our players, players who many of us watched and supported as juniors, players who WE developed, leave in droves for teams in the USA - either because they were drafted by one of the 24 American teams or sought the nice big payrolls with American teams (that latter problem has been solved to a certain degree by the salary cap although Canadian teams are still at a disadvantage). We feel like they're trying to take over and push us out. Some of us feel like they're trying to turn it into a hockey version of the MLB, NBA or the NFL- which are very "American". We don't like it. We're not anti-American. We don't hate our neighbors. But when we see these teams in places where nobody goes to watch them and we see the league repeatedly defend them and say that it's feasible to keep a team in there, we wonder why our neighbors are being so mean to us.

Isn't it enough that you have your own sports? We wonder. You have the MLB, the NFL and the NBA. We admit that the NBA is YOUR sport. We admit that Toronto's NBA and MLB teams suck. You may have ruined my baseball team, but you can keep your streroid ridden MLB. And by all means keep your NFL too. But why are you trying to take away OUR sport from us? Why do we have to BEG for a chance to get another team in our country? We might not have the oodles of money that you have (err had) but we love our teams. It sounds cheesy but it's true.

It's hard for other people to get why we get up in arms about hockey. To most other people it's just a sport. But for Canadians, it's more than that. It's something we bond over. It's the one thing we're not shy to be patriotic about - and that is seriously saying something. So when we feel that the league is trying to take take away or hog a game that means way more than Bettman can understand, it makes us mad.


Grrrreg said...

Ooooh, great post. I love to discuss about the links between about sport and identity, and hockey in Canada is one of the most interesting examples. I actually wrote an 80 pages essay for the university a few years ago about how hockey contributed to the building of a national identity in Canada... I didn't know as much as I know now about hockey and about Canada at the time, but researching and writing this paper was really fun. I think I'll write something on my blog to answer, because it's probably going to be a bit too long for a comment!

(and by the way, I don't think you're a hockey snob!)

Eternal Pessimist said...

I kinda realized after I wrote it that you probably didn't think that but I know there people who think I am a bit of one. And I think I had to address the biases that we have here anyway =)

it's an interesting issue... I'm not saying that we're right to think that Phoenix should come back here. I'm just trying to explain why I think so people here feel so strongly about it.

I wrote a paper about the Habs for one of my courses once. It wasn't 80 pages though... I'd love to do that one day XP

Grrrreg said...

Yeah, it was great. I spent my time reading hockey websites. Well, just like now, except that time it was actually considered "work"...

Eternal Pessimist said...

I love it when "work" involves hockey. So awesome.

Number31 said...

The Gazette had a funny cartoon on the front once, during the whole immigration crap that went on two years ago, and it was basically just the guy saying "GO HABS GO!" and he was let in to the country XD

But it's not really about being snobbish, rather it's like we're all at the breaking point after being the kind people that we are, quietly standing by, smiling and nodding, watching all this unfold for years and years.

And also apparently hockey was invented in Scotland (supposedly, the Russians say otherwise). So was golf! But that doesn't much matter 'cause there's a great big Scottish link here anyway!

However if it's one thing that Canadians are big on, it's tradition, even if we think we don't have any. Hockey fans are also very big on tradition (which was why glow pucks, bigger nets, stupid rules, etc annoy us all). And just last year when Buffalo was bringing it's team to Toronto for an NFL game (not by their own choice, as Buffalo itself was none too pleased about it all), pretty much the entire CFL community and Canadians alike gasped as we desperately try to keep the NFL to a bare minimum up here in fear of losing OUR version (which is big on community, even if it's a small one). For the sake of tradition!

Eternal Pessimist said...

I think I remember seeing that cartoon actually XD

And yeah, I totally agree with that. I really think Canadians are SO much like Tolkien's hobbits in so many ways *G*

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