Canada's team? It ain't the Leafs

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
Sun Media, Friday, May 7, 2010

Move over Jaffer and Guergis. Never mind the wedge issue of abortion ruining the government’s initiative on maternal health in the Third World. Forget the guilty verdict and eight-year jail sentence handed down against Karlheinz Schreiber by a German court.

The main argument in the political arena this week is: Who is Canada’s team in the Stanley Cup playoffs? You could make a pretty good case that both Montreal and Vancouver are Canada’s teams for as long as they remain in contention.

But Heritage Minister James Moore ignited a firestorm when he posted on his Twitter account that the Canucks were Canada’s team. Quicker than you can say tweet, Moore was reminded that as minister responsible for culture and national symbols, he shouldn’t be taking sides.

“Lighten up,” he replied. As a Vancouver-area MP, he was just weighing in on behalf of his home team.

Notwithstanding his explanation, Moore was taken to task by Canadiens fans of all political stripes. Jack Layton, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Hudson in the glory days of Jean Beliveau, eagerly jumped into the fray on behalf of the Habs, even though he now represents a riding in downtown Toronto. Liberal backbenchers — from Justin Trudeau to Pablo Rodriguez — skated Moore into the boards. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe found himself agreeing with Moore that the Canucks were Canada’s team, while the Canadiens were Quebec’s team.

You see what you’ve started, James? You’ve stepped on the fault line of Canadian unity.

Also this week, Moore announced a $25-million grant to the Canada Council for the Arts. The announcement sank without a trace, while the argument intensified over Canada’s team.

With apologies to Vancouver, which has won, uh, no Stanley Cups since the team’s inception in 1967, a very strong case can be made for the Canadiens, who have won, uh, 24. The Canadiens brand is iconic, the Canucks brand is not. I mean, how many kids do you see playing street hockey in Canucks sweaters?

As the most storied franchise in the game, the Canadiens have fervent supporters in nearly every corner of the country. To be sure, and for the flip side of the same emotion, there is a very strong ABC camp — Anyone But the Canadiens. As in, Damn Yankees!

This is perfectly understandable in Toronto, famously losers since 1967. Hockey commentator Al Strachan has even written a book entitled Why the Leafs Suck.

But it is the Canadiens’ compelling narrative, as a lightly regarded longshot knocking off the heavily favoured Washington Capitals in a first- round upset and trying to extend Pittsburgh in the second round, that has captured the imagination of the country. Well, except for Vancouver and the West Coast.

And it is an unlikely path Montreal followed to the second round against Pittsburgh — winning the last three games, two of them in Washington, to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. Washington had more talent, Montreal had more character. And better goaltending, as in Jaroslav Halak.

Which is often the difference in the playoffs. You can look it up under Ken Dryden in 1971, or Patrick Roy in 1986 and 1993. Whether this turns out to be the destiny of Halak remains to be seen.

One thing is certain — James Moore should stick to handing out cheques.

 
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