Canada is a hockey-obsessed nation. That’s ice hockey not the type played on grass.
The game was invented here, refined here and the best players still come from here, though the rest of the world now produced excellent players. Hockey is part of our national myth. Americans of my generation can tell you where they were when they heard John F. Kennedy had been shot. For Canadians our defining moment is Paul Henderson’s goal. (I’m not going to explain that – but you can look it up.)
Excelling in hockey is a matter of national pride. It is galling therefore that no Canadian team in the National Hockey League, which has the world’s best players, has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. Last year there was talk of a Parliamentary investigation when all seven Canadian teams in the league failed to make the playoffs.
So this year there was relief when teams from Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal all qualified for the post-season. Montreal was even considered one of the favourites, though the other three were expected to be knocked out on the first or second round.
There are now only four teams left, in a playoff season that lasts a couple of months. That is way too long, but I’ll save that rant for another day. One of those teams, the Ottawa Senators, is the only Canadian team to make it out of the second round. By default, they are Canada’s team.
As an Ottawa resident I have tended to cheer for the Senators. Unlike most hockey experts, I expected them to make the playoffs this year. I understand the players on other teams are considered to be vastly more talented, but sometimes the sum is greater than the parts. As the underdog in their first two playoff series, the Senators aren’t supposed to have gotten this far. They aren’t expected to win the current semi-final series either.
At this time of year you get a chance to see the character of these men who are paid millions to play a game. They want to win. For glory. For honour. For city and country. But not for the money – their pay is based on an 82-game season, they don’t get paid in the playoffs.
At this point, Ottawa is not favoured to reach the final. They are even in their series with the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, each team having won a game. They may be carrying the hopes of a country on their backs, but they aren’t playing as if that is a burden.
I’m hoping for a Stanley Cup parade in Ottawa in June. It’s been a long time. A Canadian team last won the cup in 1993, but it has been longer in Ottawa. The Senators last won in 1927. This Spring that long sporting drought may at last be ending.