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Archive for May, 2011

Hi everyone:

It has been a while since my last blog entry. I guess I just find the discipline of writing something on a regular basis to be very difficult, and I admire those who do so. I think a lot of it has to do with personal motivation and finding subjects to write about. These days, I tend to put something here when the spirit moves me, or if something happens in our society that I feel is worth commenting on. That time has come again, and as always I hope that what I write here is something you will enjoy, share with others and discuss as you feel led. I suppose that’s the goal of any blog writer isn’t it? After all, why write a blog if no one reads it, or really cares about what you write? But let’s leave that for another time.

As I write this it is Victoria Day, a long weekend here in Canada, and what many consider to be the unofficial start of the Canadian summer (which continues until the Labour Day weekend in early September). I’m sure that many of my fellow Canadians have been busy this weekend with all sorts of outdoor pursuits, such as planting the backyard garden for another year, opening up the family cottage, taking the patio furniture out of its winter storage and re-assembling it all in the backyard for another season of parties and get-togethers. And that smell in the air? Hmm! Perhaps it’s the family barbecue, cooking up all manner of food for the first time this season. Those burgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, salmon steaks, pork chops… sure smell great. Hey – put another one on the barbie, I’ll be there as soon as I finish writing this entry. I could go on, but you get the idea.

For hockey fans (such as yours truly!), the Victoria Day weekend also means that the Stanley Cup playoffs, which started just over a month ago in mid-April, are now reaching their climax. I am writing this blog entry on Monday May 23, and by the time this week ends, we will have our two finalists who will battle it out for the honour of being the 2011 Stanley Cup champs, and succeed the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the trophy last year after a 49 year drought. Among those four teams are the Vancouver Canucks, which raises an issue that often pops up at this time of year – and the reason for my writing this entry.

The fact that Vancouver could very well wind up in the Stanley Cup final (they currently lead their best-of-seven series 3-1), and will do so if they beat the San Jose Sharks either tomorrow night or in a future game in their Western Conference final) raises the possibility that for the first time in almost 20 years, a team from a Canadian based city could hoist the trophy. The last time this happened was in 1993, when my hometown Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings. We’ve come close a few times since then, such as the following year (1994) when these same Canucks lost to the New York Rangers. In more recent times other Canadian based teams have taken a run at the title, most notably the Calgary Flames in 2004, their provincial rivals the Edmonton Oilers in 2006, and the Ottawa Senators in 2007. All have failed, and now the Canucks appear poised to take another turn.

With all this, once again, we have the rallying cries from across the country that as Canadians we MUST cheer for Vancouver because they are the only Canadian based team left. And if we don’t, people tell us we’re not real Canadians or that we don’t care about our country. Reminds me of those who say that when Canada appears at an international sporting event, we all have to cheer for Canada automatically and without question. As if this were some God-given edict, or perhaps a government law passed by those that represent us in Ottawa. I have never understood this concept for any number of reasons, which I would now like to explore.

First, what about freewill – and that we should be able to cheer for any team we like? Last time I checked, Canada was not Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Fascist Italy or other totalitarian dictatorship where the government told you how to behave and you complied whether you wanted to or not. We are free to cheer for or support any team we like, and should not feel guilty if we don’t choose to cheer for a Canadian based team.

A good example of this concept comes from a couple of years ago when Canada and Jamaica played an international soccer match at BMO Field in Toronto as part of the qualification rounds for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The place was full, and because Toronto has a large Caribbean community, many fans wore the green and gold of Jamaica and cheered for them instead of Canada, their adopted country. In the days that followed the game, I recall many people being upset about this, but I salute those who cheered for Jamaica, perhaps for cultural or other reasons.

I can relate to this argument, and fully understand why so many people cheered for Jamaica that day. I have a strong English ancestry as part of my cultural heritage, and as a result, I always cheer for England in international soccer tournaments that they appear in such as the aforementioned World Cup. And I will even go another step and freely admit that when Canada and England play a soccer match, I tend to cheer for England instead of Canada. Or perhaps remain neutral and not favour one team over the other. Why? It’s not only saluting my English heritage, but also because when you look at the evidence the English are much better at the game than Canadians are. Many have argued that in fact the English invented what most of the world calls “football”, but is referreed to as “soccer” in North America, and exported the game to the rest of the world. I’m sure that many people (especially those from outside England) will dispute this, but my point is that England has a long and rich tradition with the game. It’s in their blood – a part of what makes the English who they are. Very much like what hockey means to Canada and the role our country has played in making it a global game. So I say that if you’re a Canadian, but you feel led to cheer for another country during international competitions, even if it means cheering against Canada, then I salute you and support your right to cheer for any team you wish, be it Canadian or not.

Second, what about the rivalries and other frictions that exist between the various Canadian cities, their franchises, and their fans? I mentioned earlier that both Alberta based NHL teams came close to winning the Cup in recent years. The Oilers and Flames have a long, passionate and bitter rivalry – just like the cities they represent. As do the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Quebec Nordiques were in the NHL before they moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the team had a very heated rivalry with Montreal. One of the best rivalries in the league is what many people call the “Battle of Ontario”. As in the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators.

If we follow the “Canada’s team” argument that I outlined earlier in this blog entry, this means that as soon as your team is eliminated, you MUST follow and cheer for any surviving Canadian team in the playoffs until they too are defeated. But let’s give this some thought and see if this concept makes sense at all.. Am I to understand that in 2004, when the Calgary Flames lost a thrilling seven game final series to the Tampa Bay Lightning that everyone in Edmonton cheered for their bitter provincial rivals? I doubt it. Sure, I’ll bet that some Edmontonians would have supported the Flames because they were a Canadian based team. But I suspect that most folks in the Alberta capital either cheered for Tampa Bay or didn’t pick a team at all because of the rivalry. Same thing in 2006 when the roles were reversed and Edmonton lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. I doubt that most Calgarians cheered for the Oilers. As I noted earlier, the Ottawa Senators reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007, only to lose out to the Anaheim Ducks. And I can tell you that most hockey fans here in the Toronto area, especially those who are die hard Maple Leaf fans, did not cheer for Ottawa. Couldn’t bring themselves to cheer for their bitter rivals.

While I just talked about rivalries in teams of sports franchises, we all know that such rivalries between cities and regions exist in many aspects of life. For example, growing up in Montreal I constantly kept hearing about a rivalry with Toronto, not just between the Leafs and Habs, but in other aspects of life, such as the economy. To hear Montrealers tell it, the Montreal-Toronto rivalry was a bitter hatred of everything the other city stood for. Whether it was sports, politics, the economy or other matters, it was strong stuff. Funny thing, however, that when I moved to Mississauga in 1978, I saw little evidence of this rivalry. I’m still looking for it today, over 30 years after I left Montreal for southern Ontario. Maybe it’s because Torontonians have never seen the need for a rivalry with Montreal because in many ways Toronto and the surrounding area is the heartland of Canada. Especially when you figure that something like one quarter of Canada’s population lives in what is called the “Golden Horseshoe” area of southern Ontario, with Toronto itself at its centre. And that as a result, the Toronto area has a strong influence on the rest of the country. Montreal? A dominant city from a Quebec perspective, but in terms of a rivalry with Toronto, I don’t think so. In many ways, such as from an economic/financial perspective, my feeling is that Toronto won the “rivalry” many years ago. I’ll bet many others feel the same.

To look at this from another perspective, although North America is divided politically along north-south boundaries, I have often thought we got it wrong. And leads to another reason why the “Canada’s team” argument really doesn’t work. Since the Canucks are the team in question right now, let’s start with Vancouver. To me, Vancouver is very much a “West Coast” city. I can say that from personal experience, having visited the city on a couple of occasions as part of visits to my American relatives who lived on the West Coast. And in that sense, I think the good citizens of Vancouver have more in common with people living in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s just a whole different world out there – and if you were to ask them, I think most Vancouverites and people throughout British Columbia would agree with me. That they see themselves as a nothern extension of Oregon, Washington and California, and that they have far more in common with folks on the West Coast than with the rest of Canada.

I think the same “regionalisms” can be found across North America. For example, I’ll bet that people across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba feel a stronger bond with their American prairie neighbours in Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota or the Dakotas than with other Canadians. And given that they both have petroleum based resource economies, the folks in Alberta and Texas would have much in common. Folks in stetsons and cowboy boots working the oilfields or riding the rodeo circuit could be just as common in Houston or Edmonton, Dallas or Calgary. Or for another example, I have often said to people that if you want to see New England in French, have a look at Quebec’s Eastern Townships or Beace regions that border the New England states. The people of our Atlantic provinces have always had a strong bond with their New England neighbours. A few years ago, I had the chance to spend a week in Chicago as part of a business trip. And couldn’t help but notice many similarities between Chicago and Toronto. Understandable, given that they are both Great Lakes cities. The same could also apply to Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit or other Great Lakes cities. Now lest you all think that I have gone on a tangent and departed from my original theme, I have mentioned these rivalries and regionalisms to show that there are many reasons why choosing any sports franchise as “Canada’s team”, or that we should all cheer for the last remaining Canadian NHL franchise doesn’t really work, nor that we should feel obligated to do so. Just to finish up this “regional” concept, if we wind up with a Boston-Vancouver final, I’ll wager that most hockey fans in Atlantic Canada will cheer for the Bruins because of the natural ties between those provinces and New England.

Finally, let me offer some personal reasons why I won’t be cheering for the Canucks if they make it to the Stanley Cup finals – two reasons in particular. First, let me take you back to the spring of 1994. At that time, the Toronto Maple Leafs played in the NHL’s Western Conference, and wound up playing Vancouver in the 1994 Western final. Just like the current series between the Canucks and San Jose, the winner would go on to play the Eastern champion in the Stanley Cup final. And as part of that 1994 series, the Canucks and their fans, urged on by the Vancouver media, launched a massive “trash talk” campaign not only against the Maple Leafs but against everything and anything remotely associated with Toronto. On the surface, an easy thing to do because most Canadians who live outside Toronto resent “The Big Smoke”, as I noted before Toronto is the centre of many aspects of Canadian life. As many have joked over the years, the one thing that unites Canadians is that everyone hates Toronto.

But the folks in Vancouver really took it up a notch or two during the spring of 1994 as the two hockey teams clashed on the ice. They slammed and insulted southern Ontario with a passion to the point where many of us in these parts felt hurt and very upset by all the comments directed our way. I know that many people feel there is a place for “trash talk” in sports, and in other areas of life where it happens. It’s meant to provide energy, emotion and some “spark” to the contest. And many people also say that it’s all supposed to be in good fun and not to be taken seriously. There are times when I can see their point. I have seen some “trash talk” that’s actually rather clever and which everyone knows is intended to have some fun and be light-hearted.

Unfortunately, such expressions of “trash talk” are very rare. In this case, I really feel that the Canucks and their fans showed a complete lack of class in how they treated Toronto. Their comments about the Leafs and about Toronto in general were rude, disgusting and totally inappropriate. I have always felt that there is no place for “trash talk”regardless of the setting because of the way it hurts and destroys your opponent. Instead, I think you should respect, value and affirm your opponent. Show them some class and dignity. In sports, and in life in general, don’t trash, demonize and destroy those who oppose you. Many of us here in the Toronto area today still remember that 1994 playoff series. And feel that the Canucks or any organization that doesn’t conduct itself with class or does not show respect for their opponent doesn’t deserve to be cheered for.

The second reason I don’t cheer for the Canucks is what has become known as the “Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident”. In March 2004, the Canucks hosted the Colorado Avalanche in a crucial late-season game at what was then called General Motors Place (now the Rogers Arena). During the game, Vancouver forward Todd Bertuzzi caused serious injury to the Avalanche’s Steve Moore. How serious? Try a major concussion as well as three broken vertebrae that in essence ended Moore’s career. Seven years later, the incident is still hotly discussed by hockey fans everywhere, and is currently subject to at least two major court cases. One has been launched by Moore against several parties, including Bertuzzi and Orca Bay (the company which owned the Canucks at the time). The second one, as I understand it, is that Bertuzzi himself has taken legal action against Marc Crawford (who coached the team back then), insisting that Crawford encouraged him to hit Moore, supposedly in retaliation for an earlier incident in a game in Denver a few days earlier where Moore had injured a Vancouver player.

Now because much of this is tried up in court cases, perhaps I ought to be careful about offering comments on this situation. I hope what follows will be interpreted as simply my own comments about what happened, which I have every right to express, although I will try to use caution in what I am about to say. Some may wish to correct me if necessary – and I apologize if I have the facts wrong. But for starters, my understanding is that the Canucks never offered any sort of apology to Steve Moore or to his family. No remorse was ever shown to Moore, nor did the team ever offer any kind of financial compensation. And as for Todd Bertuzzi, while some of you will tell me that he was suspended by the NHL for his actions, the punishment was far too light given what happened. You may also point out that Bertuzzi later offered a tear-filled apology to Moore. But I don’t think it was sincere or truly heartfelt and had no meaning. The fact that Bertuzzi continues to play hockey today, over seven years later as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, tells me that all this is wrong and has not been handled properly. To me, Todd Bertuzzi robbed Steve Moore of his livelihood and ended his hockey career. When it became apparent what had taken place, I think Bertuzzi should have had his career terminated by the NHL and other hockey leagues. If he really felt remorse and wanted to apologize, he should have retired then and there. Or continued to play and donate a portion of his salary to Moore as compensation for ending his career. Whenever I see Bertuzzi playing today, my first thought is: “You should not be playing tonight”. For those who have an interest in learning more about wha happened that night, try a Google search or similar query, such as “todd bertuzzi steve moore”. That’s what I did in order to ensure that I had the right date for this entry. You’ll find a ton of information online – and it won’t take long for you to realize, as I have, that this whole thing is far from over.

As noted above, the fact that all this is before the courts means that one must be careful when commenting about the issue. But I wanted to at least briefly talk about the above episode because just like the 1994 “trash talk” stuff, all this shows that the Canucks organization does not deserve to be supported and cheered for. Although many will argue that today’s Canucks are very different from the 2004 team (new ownership, new mangement, new players – even new uniforms, logo, team colours…), the fact remains that the team botched the Bertuzzi-Moore episode and did not show the proper attitude and respect for all concerned. As a result of all this, I find it very difficult to cheer for the Vancouver Canucks organization in any form. And probably won’t cheer for them again until all this is resolved, whether via the courts or through other means.

Time to wrap this up, and as usual I apologize for a long posting. In summation (and to answer the question that I used to title this blog entry), while the Vancouver Canucks may be the only Canadian based team left in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, they are far from Canada’s team. The same can also be said any time this situation happens when a Canadian team battles for professional hockey’s most storied trophy. To say that as Canadians we MUST always cheer for the last team standing is misguided and just plain wrong. If you’re one of those people, then I feel for you. While I respect your right to cheer for a Canadian team if that’s where your heart and your feelings are, don’t tear apart those of us who feel differently. We should all cheer for whatever team we like, whether they are based in Canada or not.

To close this entry, as the 2011 Stanley Cup final approaches, let’s turn our thoughts and feelings to the ice surface. More specifically to the home arenas of the two competing teams, whether it’s in Vancouver or San Jose; Boston or Tampa Bay (the contestants in the Eastern final). And may the best team win!

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