Photo of the Canucks fan zone on Georgia Street in Vancouver by MikeWu.
If any in this city doubted—at the outset of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs—the direness of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 44-year championship drought, chances are they’re doubters no longer. Two short months after the Leafs’ sixth consecutive failure to qualify for the playoffs, their fans—among the most blindly loyal in the NHL—find themselves cheering for another team.
Toronto, decidedly and unabashedly, wants the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.
Obviously, there are exceptions. But there is an unmistakable and prevailing sentiment among diehard NHL fans and casual observers alike that the Canucks are now our adopted home side as they continue to face off against the Boston Bruins in a best-of-seven series for hockey’s legendary trophy. Indeed, encounters with the phrase “Canada’s team” have become increasingly difficult to avoid.
Unfortunately, this appellation makes no sense.
Although it is true that the Canucks play their home games on Canadian ice, their roster is just like that of every other team in the league, Boston included, in that it is made up of players from all over Canada, Europe, and the United States. Unlike in Boston, however, the box-office staff, ushers, security personnel, beer vendors, and Zamboni operators at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver are presumably overwhelmingly Canadian. Is it for them that we are cheering? Perhaps we are cheering for the Canucks’ Canadian owner, the Aquilini Investment Group?
Admittedly, unification of the country behind a hockey team’s playoff run has precedent.
In 2004, Canadians found themselves enthralled with the Calgary Flames as they won the western conference only to fall to Martin St. Louis and the rest of the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the finals.
But the Flames had a few things going for them then that the Canucks do not have this year. A number-six seed in the west when the playoffs began, the Flames had the appeal of the underdog. They had the star power of team captain and Canadian Jarome Iginla, then among the most dangerous scorers in the game. They had the finest collection of playoff beards in recent memory.
How, then, to make sense of the popularity of a Vancouver team which was a pre-playoffs favourite to win, is led by the stoic Sedin twins of Sweden, and has a reputation for delivering dirty hits and cheap shots?
In Toronto, the likeliest explanation is found in the perpetual ineptness of the Maple Leafs. Seemingly, our desperation to back a winning hockey team—or winning sports team of any kind, for that matter—has made us eager to hop onto the Canucks’ bandwagon.
But that bandwagon is traveling on a one-way street.
Calling it “Canada’s team” implies that Vancouver is battling for this championship for all of us. While the Canucks’ skaters may or may not be motivated by a sincere interest in bringing the Stanley Cup to their fans in Vancouver, or to their friends and neighbours in their various hometowns, chances are good that they would find the support of hockey fans in Toronto largely inconsequential, were they aware of it.
For their part, Canucks fans themselves will be reluctant to share their celebration, if and when their team prevails, with inconstant supporters from a city on the other side of the country who have not been around to suffer the lean years with them: the four championship-less decades, the riots that followed the Canucks’ near miss in 1994, the very public shaming of Todd Bertuzzi.
With a win tonight in Boston, the Canucks will close out the Bruins in six games and get to call themselves the Stanley Cup champions until at least the same time next year. But even if they lose tonight and go on to lose the series, we in Toronto should not despair.
Because, fortunately, Canada does have a hockey team.
Just like the Canucks, Canada’s team had Roberto Luongo in goal the last time they played. Just like the Canucks, they played home games in Vancouver. But unlike the Canucks, our team was composed exclusively of Canadians, unpaid, competing for our country against teams with an equal mandate to compete for theirs.
So relax, Toronto. We won already, remember?