Friday, May 21, 2010

Searching for Canada's Team in the NHL Playoffs

This article was first published in the May 21st edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday

The NHL playoffs have reached the final four, as the Eastern and Western Conference Finals got underway last Sunday. The Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens are battling for their respective conference titles, as well as a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

With Montreal representing the six Canadian teams in the league as the only team from our country still in the hunt for the Cup, an interesting but unnecessary debate has emerged on sports talk radio shows outside of Quebec. With hockey fans desperate to see the Cup return “home” to Canada, should the fans be cheering for Montreal despite the fact that they have the fewest number of Canadian born players on their roster. Of the four remaining teams competing for the Stanley Cup, the Habs have the fewest number of Canadian players on their roster. I realize it is a ridiculous conversation, but it is occurring nonetheless, so let us look at the idea of Canadian content on NHL teams why we should cheer for Montreal.

In its early days, the NHL was almost 100% Canadian; it was considered “our” game and only the Canadian boys excelled at the sport. As the game grew in the United States, quality players from the US began to earn roster spots in the league and by 1980, the US hockey players were celebrating their “Miracle on Ice”, defeating the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. By the late eighties and early nineties, the Canadian and American all-stars were joined by a growing contingent of European players that have now staked their claim to roster spots; proving that hockey is no longer just “Canada’s game”, it has flourished throughout the world and is enjoyed in many nations.

Amongst the conference finalists, the Chicago Blackhawks have the greatest contingent of Canadians with 20 on their team, according to the official rosters available at the NHL's website (a list that includes all players on the team, not just those dressing for the games). The Philadelphia Flyers are next with 19, followed by the San Jose Sharks with 15 and Montreal with 14. A similar situation arose in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Anaheim Ducks had more Canadians then the Ottawa Senators; it is one of those quirky statistical anomalies that sometimes arises in the sports world. If a fan is searching for “Canada’s team”, then the Edmonton Oilers earn that title with 23 Canadian born players on their roster.

So, why should all Canadians proudly cheer for the Montreal Canadiens instead of the Chicago Blackhawks or San Jose Sharks? The answer in my opinion is simple; it is the rich history of the game in our country and the legacy of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. From Morenz, to Vezina, Lach, Moore, Bouchard, Richard and Beliveau, from Lafleur, Savard, Robinson, Dryden, Gainey and St. Patrick Roy, the legacy of the Montreal Canadiens is woven into the fabric of our nation and our hearts. Today’s stars - Cammalleri, Gionta, Gorges, Plekanec, Gill and Halak, are all players that have embraced this legacy and rose to the occasion in the early rounds of the 2010 Playoffs.

In today’s NHL, it is not where you are from; it is the uniform that you are wearing. Should we stop cheering for Mike Cammalleri because he grew up near Toronto? Of course not - he wears the CH on his chest with pride and respect for the past. We cheer for the Canadiens, not because they have the most Canadian born players, but because they are Les Glorieux... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Kevin Van Lierop on

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