The idea that all Canadians must actively cheer for the success of all this country’s NHL teams constitutes one of the great lies that we are sold as hockey fans.
There is absolutely no obligation for any hockey fan to support another team simply as a matter of geography.
My stance on this has softened in recent years, mostly due to having a job that required me to watch and write about every NHL team with as little bias as possible. That gave me an opportunity to appreciate teams and players all over the league, somewhat extinguishing the need to be tied to the fate of one single team. Life circumstances along the way also gave perspective to the fact hockey is, of course, only a game and mean to be an escape, not another trap.
Still, as a lifelong Bruins fan, it would be hard for me to bring myself to support the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs (the former as a matter of long standing tradition, the latter more recently as a result of dealings between the two clubs). At the same time, the 2011 Cup Final against the Canucks would eliminate all probability of me supporting Vancouver in the future.
So the simple fact that my team of choice is from an American city with rivalries with a few Canadian teams would preclude me from cheering for at least 3 of the 7, right off the bat.
On the flip side, and given the fact that I grew up in Ottawa, I will admit to having a soft spot for my hometown team, and did in fact get caught up in the excitement of the Senators ’07 run, albeit while living in Manitoba. And hey, since I did live south of Winnipeg for 2 years, I was pumped about the return of the Jets, and would get behind them in the future, provided that it did not conflict with my first hockey love from Boston (same with the Sens on that point, in fact).
As you can see, it’s all terribly subjective.
Personal preferences aside, one major question to consider is this: what makes a team more Canadian – where they play or how the roster is made up?
Let’s use the Calgary Flames as an example of the difference between supporting a Canadian team (ie: city) and a Canadian roster. Jump back to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. The Flames, led by a good Canadian boy in Jarome Iginla, pushed the Lightning to 7 games, only to lose a Cup to a team based in Florida. What a sham, right? Again, nope.
While this idea of “supporting Canada’s team” was running rampant, there were many who were very much supporting Tampa Bay based on the the fact that their roster was made up of several incredibly talented Canadian players, including Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis & Dan Boyle, among others.
When the Senators made it to the Final against the Ducks, would it have been treason to support Anaheim? Not when their roster featured names like Pronger, Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Penner, Perry, McDonald, Kunitz, May, Thornton (et al). Cheering for the Ducks is a little gross, mind you, but I digress …
To build on that, teams containing several Canadians will no doubt have folks from their respective hometowns rooting for them with all their hockey loving hearts. Why? Because based on the tradition of every member of the team having the opportunity to spend one day with the Cup, chances are it could come to a town near you during any given summer.
Again, to speak from personal experience, it was a thrill for me to be able to combine my joy over the Bruins winning the Cup with the ability to head down to the Sleeman Centre here in Guelph to get my picture taken with Rich Peverley and that beautiful silver mug. In fact, the place was packed with fans of the black ‘n’ gold, all thrilled to death that the Canucks had failed to “bring the Cup home.”
All this to say, let’s put any talk of “getting behind Canada’s team” to death, shall we?
For one thing, being a fan of one team negates fluidity in terms of backing a rival, and quite often a team’s makeup makes it more Canadian than the city in which it plays.
Bigger picture, Canada certainly doesn’t own the game of hockey. They are legitimate fans of this game all over North America and worldwide, all with a passion for seeing their favourite teams or homegrown talent succeed in the NHL.
In short, root for whoever the hell you want. It’s not a big deal.
*Note: The first version of this article was posted on The Hockey Writers back in 2012.