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Sorry Obama, Canadians Still Believe They Own Hockey

03/14/2016 11:17 EDT | Updated 03/15/2017 05:12 EDT
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A 2013 Statistics Canada survey reveals that more than three in four Canadians regard hockey as an important symbol of national identity (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015005-eng.htm). While hockey is behind such symbols as the Flag and the Charter of Rights, with the hockey season coming to a close, it's probably more top of mind for many Canadians and notably for the fans.

There is a serious prospect that none of the Canadian teams will make the National Hockey League playoffs, an issue that has been the object of a fair bit of discussion in the sports media. Last week hockey moved to the very center of cultural diplomacy when standing alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Barack Obama questioned Canada's hockey dominance by pointing out that the Stanley Cup was currently the propriety of Chicago, the President's home town.

In defense of our national pride, Trudeau countered that in 2015 Chicago's good fortune was attributable to key Canadian exports to the United States with the likes of Black Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith all serving on the team (it's good that Trudeau left aside that the Black Hawks other big super star Patrick Kane was born in the United States).

Trudeau's observation is testimony to the success that Canada has enjoyed in exporting hockey south of the border. Still, underlying the humorous exchange between Obama and Trudeau is an existential question about our continued world global hegemony. A June 2015 Association for Canadian Studies/Leger Marketing survey points out that over three in four Canadians remain convinced that Canada is still the best in the world when it comes to the sport.

But there are a growing number of doubters in the hockey nation. The Europeans and the Americans have increasingly put some excellent teams on the ice. At the world junior hockey championships last December/January, Canada finished lower than fourth at the annual event for the first time since 1998.

It's hard to blame some of the fans for feeling their Canadian hockey ego has been a bit bruised when such legendary Canadian hockey teams like the Montreal Canadians, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are struggling to remain competitive against such key winter rivals as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, amongst others. Sure, like our Prime Minister, we can counter that these hockey teams benefit from the presence of some of our finer domestic born elements. But others can just as easily reply that our Canadian teams benefit from the presence of several foreign-born players. Take the Montreal Canadians whose captain is American born Max Pacioretty and their current leading scorer Alex Galchenyuk is an American-born player of Belarusian origin.

The past greatness of some of Canada's NHL teams is a fading memory. In 2014 it will be 25 years since the Calgary Flames won their last Stanley Cup, In 2015 the Edmonton Oilers will mark 25 years since their last such victory. It doesn't stop there. In 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup victory and the following year it will be 25 years since the Montreal Canadians did so. Only a few years away from marking their 50th anniversary as an NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks have yet to win a Stanley Cup.

As a leading exporter of its national pastime, Canada might be described as a victim of its own success. But hockey has helped Canada secure attention than it might otherwise obtain south of our border and elsewhere in the world. A two billion dollar bridge between Detroit and Windsor will soon be named after "Mr. Hockey", Canadian born Gordie Howe. Former Prime Minister Harper noted that this very fitting tribute was a beautiful symbol of the bonds between Canada and the United States. So while nations compete for recognition and top honors, hockey is very often a unifying force that transcends borders and has generated so many outstanding individuals that remain a source of considerable pride wherever in the world they happen to be playing the sport.

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