Later this month I will have lived in the United States for ten years. Although my affection for the United States grows with each passing year I will always be a Canadian at heart. I was born, raised, and lived in Canada for more than a quarter century.
As a dual citizen, I am torn when Canada and the United States have their political and economic disagreements. However, when it comes to athletic competition I invariably go with my heart and root for Canada. This was never more evident than this past Sunday afternoon when watching Canada triumph in the gold medal match against the United States in Men’s Hockey which concluded the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Now, at the risk of confessing a sacrilege, I admit that I was not a hockey fan growing up in Canada. If you came over to the Goldstein household on a Saturday night you would not find Hockey Night in Canada on our TV set. I was brought up on baseball. In fact, both my father and I would bemoan how little baseball coverage there was until the conclusion of the Stanley Cup, which seemed to last until July.
Nor did I play any kind of organized hockey. I was a nightmare on skates. Once in a blue moon I might play street hockey with some of the neighborhood kids where we all took turns in removing the net from the road whenever a car would pass by.
In fact, I did not attend a professional hockey game until I moved to Boston. This means I never went to the Fort William Gardens to watch the semi-professional Thunder Bay Twins play. This also means that during all the years I lived in Ottawa I did not attend a Senators game even when they were playing at the Ottawa Civic Center, which was within walking distance from my apartment.
The only real connection with hockey in all the time I lived in Canada was the knock hockey table my Dad built out of wood. My siblings and I would use various kitchen utensils as sticks.
It seems I tend to appreciate hockey more whenever I have been away from Canada. I remember being in Israel during the summer of 1988 and opening up the pages of the Jerusalem Post to discover that Wayne Gretzky had been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. When I told the other Canadians in my group what had happened, you could have heard a puck drop.
Now having spent all these years away from Canada has made me appreciate hockey in a way I never did before. During a visit to Toronto in May 2005 I was attending a baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox. Now when I attend a game at Fenway Park, one usually sees highlights from other baseball games between innings. Well, that day at the Rogers Centre instead of seeing baseball highlights we were treated to highlights from the Canada-Sweden game at the 2005 Men’s World Hockey Championship in Austria. These highlights roused more passion from the crowd than did the baseball game they paid to see. (Canada would go on to the gold medal match but were shut out 3-0 by the Czech Republic.) Now it must be remembered this was in the midst of the NHL lockout of 2004-2005. Canadians were starving for hockey. I’m sure Blue Jays fans would have cheered lustily for video highlights of a peewee hockey tournament played in Mississauga.
Fast forward two years when I paid a visit to Ottawa. Canada’s capital was in a state of delirium because the Senators had reached the Stanley Cup against the Anaheim Ducks. Senators’ fans successfully lobbied the city to designate Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa as the “Sens Mile” during the Stanley Cup Finals. For all intents and purposes, Ottawa had turned into one huge block party. Unfortunately for Senators fans, the Ducks won the 2006-2007 Stanley Cup in five games. Honestly, did people in Anaheim even know they had a hockey team? Or put another way, if the Ducks had lost to the Senators, would anyone in Southern California have lost any sleep over it?
No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens triumphed over Gretzky and the Kings in 1993. I remember when Canadiens goalie and future NHL Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, sporting a playoff goatee, held Lord Stanley’s Cup aloft over his head.
Consider what would have happened had Sidney Crosby, the man who many consider Gretzky’s heir apparent, not scored that goal in OT and the U.S. had struck first. The United States would have defeated Canada at its own game and on its own soil. When you consider that the U.S. team had defeated Canada the week before, it would have opened up a very deep wound. If you think Boston Red Sox fans in New England were deflated and demoralized after being only five outs away from reaching the World Series only to have Grady Little leave Pedro Martinez in too long and lose to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Well, if Canada had lost that deflation and demoralization would have extended from Vancouver up to Nunavut back down to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The sorrow of Red Sox fans would be dissipated a year later. Canada would not have had an opportunity for such redemption. Who knows when Canada will host another Winter Olympics? That feeling would have lingered painfully amongst Canadians for generations to come. The fact that Canada had earned all those other gold medals including in Women’s Hockey would have been rendered almost completely meaningless.
Fortunately for Canadians such a scenario did not come to pass. The Vancouver Olympics ended as they should have. You see, north of the border every night is Hockey Night.