May 13, 2009

Canada: hockey, ego, pride, and paranoia

Cocky about hockey

"...Hamilton has a horrendous history of supporting its teams. The AHL Bulldogs are the current tenants at Copps but despite icing a competitive club that won a championship two years ago, impressive crowds are hard to come by."

You know, I say things like this, and I get beat up on and told that I must hate Canada - just because I'm an American saying similar stuff that's in this article. A Canadian says the exact same things, and while fellow Canadians question it, they're totally reasonable about it. Don't you just love visceral knee-jerk reactions?

It's been interesting to see how people are reacting to this situation - people from all countries, that is. I think that most non-Canadians will agree that if Canada can support another team or two then they should have them. But I can't tell you how many non-Canadians agreed with my earlier statement that most Canadians have this annoying air of "possessive entitlement" when it comes to all things hockey. Not just Americans, but Europeans, too. They all have said pretty much the same thing - we like Canada, and we like Canadians, but they do really have this annoying air of "possessive entitlement" about hockey.

A friend of mine from Michigan - a Detroit Red Wings fan, actually - said that Canadians get very sensitive if you question their devotion to hockey. Which is true. I mean, you criticize a Canadian hockey fan about how they approach hockey and all of a sudden they think you hate Canada. It's happened to me time and again.

Any little bit of criticism, and they immediately feel like you're attacking them. It's nuts. If Americans were like that, the entire planet would've been in a nuclear holocaust decades ago. Maybe it's because I'm American, and I'm used to the entire world constantly dissing on everything American, but seriously, stop being so hyper-sensitive. A criticism isn't a hate-crime.

I understand that hockey is their national identity - which I think is pretty sad, actually. I mean, here they have this beautiful and pristine country and all they can say is that they're not American and they love hockey. Really? That's it? C'mon, I'm not Canadian and even I can come up with more things that they should be proud of their country for than that.

Anyways, there's this more visible divide in hockey now. You've got the Canadian fans who demand that they deserve more teams simply because they're Canada, of course. And then you've got everyone else who kind of agrees that there should be more teams in Canada, but are sort of puzzled and wary over this bizarre frothing-at-the-mouth nationalistic behavior that Canadian hockey fans are exhibiting. Although, some of their beliefs about the situation are interesting.

I've read all kinds of things like Gary Bettman hates Canada and doesn't want any more teams there. Which is really why he's trying to stop the sale of Phoenix to Balsillie. That's the most popular one, actually. And the most paranoid. Bettman doesn't like Balsillie and that's why he doesn't want him to have a team - it's as simple as that. There was talk a month or two ago about the possibility of the NHL putting a second team in Toronto, which doesn't seem like something the commissioner would do if he didn't want any more teams in that country.

Then there's the egotistical approach that Canadian fans are what's keeping teams in the Sunbelt afloat. That it's the Canadian snowbirds that winter in warm places that make up all of the fans in those NHL cities, and without them teams would fail. Which, having lived in Tampa, I can tell you that that is not the case in that particular city. So I'm sort of doubting that's the case in the others as well. There's no doubt that Canadians do go to games in those places, but I don't think they're in large enough numbers to really make a big difference one way or the other. And I doubt that there are definitive numbers suggesting otherwise.

Oh, and then going along with that is the notion that Canadian-based teams are making all of the money in the league. And they're tired of supporting the dead weight Sunbelt teams when they should be relocated into Canada, or at the very least in a more northern US city, anyways. Although that might be the case now, but it hasn't always been that way. In reality, if the exchange rate between US & Canadian money goes back to what it was 10 years ago, it would be the American teams propping up the Canadian ones. So that's sort of a self-defeating argument - especially since the exchange rate constantly changes.

My favorite one, tho, is the climate bias. "Warm cities just don't breed hockey fans" is the general philosophy. Which I think is funny since, if hockey is supposedly such a great sport, it wouldn't matter where the team is located, right?

If Canadians understood Americans at all, they'd realize that it has nothing to do with snow and frozen lakes, but everything to do with the win column. Hockey is an expensive sport. Not just to play, but also to watch at the NHL level. Americans want to be sure that they'll be getting their money's worth if they're going to drop $50-350 for a ticket. And that doesn't include parking, food, and drinks - that's just for one seat. If the team sucks, then they just won't go to games. And it's exactly the same for baseball, basketball, and football.

It has nothing to do with the climate. I mean, Chicago was awful just a couple of years ago, and they had problems getting people into the seats. But no one ever thought about moving them elsewhere, even tho the United Center echoed like an empty cave some nights. Then they put a winning team on the ice, and now they're selling out. That's the way things work here. So the fact that Phoenix isn't drawing crowds has less to do with it being in the middle of a desert and far more to do with the fact that they haven't made playoffs in six years now.

So Bettman isn't trying to keep teams out of Canada, Canadian snowbirds aren't the only people going to games in the Sunbelt, the US-Canadian exchange rate won't stay favorable forever, and hot weather does not mean people will not like hockey. I know that people in Canada love their hockey - no one questions that - and because of that they want more teams. But just like everwhere else that wants an NHL team, you'll have to wait your turn. Assuming that a particular city can support a team to begin with, of course - Canadian or American. So take a deep breath and relax. The world is not out to get you.

But if you keep acting crazy like you have been, you might want to consider seeing a psychiatrist who's from a relatively hockey-neutral country like the UK.

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