Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Stanley Cup finals, the Vancouver Canucks, and hockey in Canada

I grew up in Montreal and, as you might imagine (if you know anything about hockey), am a Habs fan, but when it comes to this year's Stanley Cup finals between Boston and Vancouver, the choice for me is clear. It's the Canucks all the way. Partly it's ABB -- Anyone But Boston. I despise the Bruins. But it would also be nice for a Canadian team to win the Cup. It hasn't happened since the Canadiens won for the 24th time in 1993.

As you may have heard, if you didn't see the game, Vancouver won the series opener 1-0 last night with the deciding goal scored late in the third period -- actually, with just 18.5 second left.

Actually, these are extremely good times for hockey in Canada. (And it's about time.) We won the men's and women's Olympic gold medals in Vancouver last year. We have the Canucks. And now we also have a new team, the Winnipeg somethings (Jets?), with the announcement just this week that the Atlanta Thrashers, struggling in a virtually non-existent hockey market, had been sold and would move to Manitoba.

The NHL's -- and specifically commissioner Gary Bettman's -- ridiculous expansion plan into non-hockey markets in the U.S., all to secure revenue (mostly from a TV deal) that hasn't come, has been, for the most part, an embarrassing failure. While some franchises have done fairly well, like Dallas, others have struggled badly, like Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, and the two Florida teams. (To be fair, other franchises even in major markets have struggled as well, like the Islanders, on Long Island.)

Instead of trying to make it where hockey barely registers, it would be far better for the NHL to focus on traditional hockey markets with committed fan bases. Winnipeg is a start, but Quebec City should have a team again (the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, just as the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes) and the Toronto area, the most important hockey market in the world, should have a second team, either in Hamilton, a city roughly halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, or somewhere even closer to Toronto. We could certainly sustain both the Maple Leafs and another team.

Other than Toronto/Hamilton, these Canadian cities, like Winnipeg and Quebec City, may be smaller than Atlanta and Phoenix, but it's not the size of the city or metropolitan area, it's the commitment to hockey. And we have it. Oh, do we have it.

But back to the game...

I have one team and one team only: the Montreal Canadiens. I grew up with them, I idolized Lafleur and Robinson and Dryden and the rest of the players on those great teams of the '70s, and I was there with my dad, at the old Forum, when they won the Cup against the Rangers in 1979. We've won the Cup twice since then, but it's been a challenging time in recent years for the greatest, most glorious franchise in the history of hockey.

I don't always root for the Canadian teams next -- I also despise the Maple Leafs, for example, and I wouldn't always go for the Canadian team over the American -- but this year I really do hope we get the Cup back. Go Canucks!

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  • Good luck next year!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:06 AM  

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