Watching Canadian hockey fans in the playoffs brings out the emotions of a sport that is built on moments. From the the perennial contender the Montreal Canadians to the Cinderella hopefuls the Calgary Flames (who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009) there is a vast array of storylines to follow over the next two months. While these franchises all have their unique histories there is one thing that is truly unifying between them all; the fans. You hear it from the swells of the action from a shot on goal with an incredible catching save, that jaw-shattering hit that leaves them roaring to the moment of elation when some unsung hero seizes the opportunity for post-season infamy with an overtime game-winning goal.
This post-season the league is blessed with two opening round matchups pitting two sets of Canadian franchises against one another. While each fan base has their own unique styles for supporting their teams they share the same common mindset of how important this is. They feel it in their bones, worshipping the sport from the moment they step out onto that ice as a young child or watch their team for the first time on Hockey Night in Canada. These true believers realize that while Winters may be cold in the frozen north Spring will always thaw the ponds on which they played 3 on 3 and they will be able to sit and watch as their franchise strives for the ultimate goal that is hoisting the Stanley Cup. This is something that as an American sports fan, a diehard one at that, is hard to comprehend. Why do their arenas sound so much louder than ours? Why are these fans going to their barber shops to get Habs logos carved into their heads? Why don’t I get let out early on playoff hockey days from work to go pre-game? There is only one state that may be able to match the intensity of the average Canadian fan and that is of course The State of Hockey, Minnesota. Regardless though, Minnesota may as well be a part of Canada when you compare the Winters, love for their team the Wild and general pleasurable discourse about them. The answer to all those questions though is simple; it is their responsibility to love their teams, carry on their traditions and make the world understand that while we may enjoy the sport, Canadians own the sport.
From the earliest days of the NHL there have been Canadian franchises starting with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians. There have been great teams that have come and gone like the Quebec Nordiques, moving south to the warmer climate and stronger dollar of America. There have even been a dynasty, the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers, that will live in infamy as one of the most dominant teams in any professional sport in history. What is shared between all of them though is that their fans were not there to just support them in times of triumph but instead they have bled with their teams through the trials and tribulations they have faced. These fans believe that they are the driving force for their players, that they are owed wins and championships for their years of faith and understanding. So it is understandable then that while watching the Ottawa Senators take on the Montreal Canadians last evening it was difficult to hear the announcers over the ebbs and flows of the game coming from the arena. Therefore when Alex Galchenyuk, a Russian born skater playing for the Montreal Canadians, scored the game winning goal in that overtime game the building erupted as it Bill Pullman just delivered his Independence Day speech before going off to take down the aliens.
This is where I make a slight petition to both the National Hockey League, NBC Sports and CBC. Please set up a second broadcast of Playoff hockey games, even just the ones in Canada, devoid of any and all broadcasters. You can still put up your flashy stats and show the replays that have become prerequisite for the common audience but let us truly hear the game. I want to listen as the crowd draws in their collective breath as the visiting team skates down the ice on a 3 on 1. I want to hear their reaction to a hit that leaves a top player reeling, the ferocity in their screams that pushes the other skaters on. There is so much that can be gathered just by listening just one average Canadian hockey fan, imagine what an arena of diehards could tell us about how the game is really going.
If you are going to watch any playoff hockey this year, and I hope that you do, there are two series that you should try to focus on. The first is that Ottawa-Montreal series where the red hot Senators came into the Bell Centre in Montreal only to leave down two games to none and heading back to Ottawa desperate. The other is out west, where the young and energetic Calgary Flames are facing down a pair of Swedish twins in the form of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and their club the Vancouver Canucks. Each team has one a game in that series and as they head to Calgary for games three and four the emotions of the fans will only rise. Of course, there are six other matchups occurring across the NHL that feature more star power, flashiness and outstanding play but what none of them have is the joy of watching two Canadian franchises battle each other for that chance at a Stanley Cup. We should not forget the Winnipeg Jets though as their fans are the loudest of any hockey club out there. They are facing the Anaheim Ducks tonight in Anaheim before heading back to Winnipeg to take part in a playoff game for the first time since their move back to the city from Atlanta.
Maybe this will be the first year that a Canadian franchise lifts the Stanley Cup since 1993 when the Montreal Canadians accomplished that feat. Personally I will be rooting for my club, the New York Rangers, but in the back of my mind I will root for Canada, and most importantly their fans, to know the taste of victory. They breathe hockey, their parents breathed hockey, their grandparents breathed hockey. It is their patriotic duty to care about nothing else but the sport that they hold so dear and for that, I am grateful to them all. Even if they are Montreal Canadian fans.
You can watch these Canadian matchups and all others on NBC and its family of network this April-June. Go to http://www.nhl.com/ice/schedulebymonth.htm for listings.