A strange thing happened to Canada on its way to the Stanley Cup this spring.
Call it karma, or call it fate. Call it the unpredictability of the game of high-stakes hockey. Heck, call it Boston if you want. But somewhere, somehow, somebody slipped a banana peel under the skates of the highly touted Vancouver Canucks. And their parade towards the Cup — the first time hockey’s biggest prize was going to go back to Canada after 17 years south of the border — came a’cropper to the surprise of the hockey world and the absolute shock and despair of your typical Canadian hockey fan.
Canadians generally feel a sense of ownership about hockey, and they are well within their rights to do so. Big league hockey organizers and players functioned as a Canadian club, so to speak, for much of the 20th Century. The days of the reverently remembered Original Six featured four American clubs — Detroit, Chicago, New York, Boston — along with Montreal and Toronto to complete the foundation of the National Hockey League. And roughly 99.99 percent of the 100 or so pro players who peopled those teams each season were products of Canada, sons of the great white north.
(Why nobody outside of Canada’s vast boundaries was fit to perform as a pro hockey player; or at least why only 0.01 percent of all humans born outside Canada exhibited the skills that would qualify them for the NHL in any given season … was a mystery that continuously puzzled anthropologists around the world during the Original Six days. Nobody could figure it out. Had Gordie Howe been born in Nevada instead of Floral, Saskatchewan in 1928, would he have failed to make the Red Wings team in his rookie year of 1946? Would his magical stick-handling have suffered as a result? These are questions that must forever go unanswered. The fact is he WAS born in Canada, he DID become a Red Wing in ‘46, and he could stick-handle like a sumbitch.)
So hockey was rightly seen as Canada’s national game. But after expansion of the NHL in the late 1960s, a move that broke Canada’s choke hold on supplying professional hockey players, the Stanley Cup began showing up in cities where it went unrecognized; locales where some people thought it was a deluxe bedpan. Tampa Bay. New Jersey. A city in the Carolinas. It was last captured by a Canadian city when the Montreal Canadiens won the playoffs in 1993, fully 18 years ago. The long Cup absence rankled hockey-conscious Canadians, who are thought to constitute 99.99 percent of the country’s population. But…
Canada’s Stanley Cup drought looked as though it might end this season. The Vancouver Canucks were clearly the class of the NHL during the regular season, and thought to be heavy favorites to win the Cup. It seemed that much of Canada rallied behind them, particularly after the Canucks won their first two Final games against the Boston Bruins.
Their country answered the call. Following those first two victories, national Canadian companies — including two national banks — began running TV commercials along the line of ‘Two Down, Two to Go … the Cup is Coming Back!’ Think of that — BANKS were leading the charge. That’s serious pressure to put on hockey players.
Still, the Bruins refused to lay down and play the Washington Generals to the Canucks’ Harlem Globetrotters. Though lacking big-name players and offensive threats, Boston put up a scrappy battle and fought the Canucks to an exciting three-wins each Cup standoff. The matter was settled Wednesday night in Vancouver, where wild anticipation — to say the least — had reached a fevered pitch. All of Canada was at the ready.
But led by goalie Tim Thomas, who hails from Davison near Flint (meaning he couldn’t have played in the old days, as has been proven here), the Bruins shut out Vancouver … surprising hockey experts and the favored Canucks … shocking hundreds of thousands of fans who had gathered to watch giant screens on downtown streets … and demoralizing Canadians from coast to coast who had been, understandably, awaiting the return of their beloved Cup. The final was 4-0, and the city of Vancouver seemed to suffer a collective nervous breakdown at the loss.
Even the national banks went nuts. One of them ran a commercial that ran right after the 4-0 decider, during the televised celebration of the Bruins players, which said in essence … ’Congratulations to the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions’ … “Enjoy the Cup While You Can” … ‘Next Season Begins in Just Four Months.’
How’s that for great sportsmanship? Bad taste was followed by violence. The people of Vancouver were seen pummeling Bruins fans who made the foolish mistake of first attending, and then leaving, Wednesday’s game in downtown Vancouver. They also pummeled and burned automobiles that made the foolish mistake of being parked on downtown streets. Windows were smashed, buildings were looted, women in bikini tops gave the finger to cameras; the morons who are targeted by international beer commercials acted generally like they were IN … an international beer commercial.
It’s easy to be funny about this stuff. No, I take that back. It’s easy to TRY to be funny about this stuff. The fact is that the fabric of society is unraveling before our eyes, with our shrugging approval. Sports spectacles, fueled by alcohol and idiotic TV and movie programming, are being substituted for the violence and blood of ancient Roman carnage.
People who care about sports — real sports, not the absurdities on exhibition in Vancouver or, say, the front offices of American football universities — had best get control of the games for the matter of the games themselves, and more importantly for the matter of the children who are now growing up absorbing the modern madness of big-time sports and the endless drunken partying they advocate.