Who to cheer for in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Are we allowed to root for the other Canadian teams?

Who to cheer for in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Photo by Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

It has been deemed appropriate for Maclean’s to address the most urgent question of the day: what is the right attitude to adopt toward other Canadian NHL teams once your own has been eliminated from the playoffs? This is one of the rare issues in which public sentiment appears to lie in an enduring, almost perfect 50-50 balance. (Note: this is one of the 4.7 per cent of statistics cited in magazines that is completely made up on the spot.) People of a naturally patriotic bent—and while Canadians do not think of themselves as aggressive flag-wavers, outsiders with experience of us will contradict this instantly—believe in transferring one’s primary loyalty to some other Canadian club that has a chance of bringing home the Cup. Others prefer to cheer against surviving Canadian teams. They want their own club to be the one that finally brings the grail back to Canada after what may shortly become a 20-year absence.

The “unpatriotic” fan, if he has any imagination, absolutely cannot bear to consider a life that continues after some other Canadian team restores the Cup to our soil. Imagine how much devastation the wave of smugness from Montreal would wreak across the land if the Habs won it again. Imagine how quick Toronto sportswriters would be to start cramming even the dopiest, most stone-handed members of a Cup-winning Leaf squad into the Hall of Fame. Envision the Canucks winning a Cup, and you have foreseen a British Columbia utterly consumed in an orgy of witless, self-congratulating fire. If Calgary or Edmonton were ever to win it again, suicide rates in the other city, whichever it was, would surely skyrocket on the day of the abominable parade.

Social media has had the effect of binding Canadians together and giving us all more experience of the diverse ways of seeing the world that prevail in other regions of this magnificent land. This turns out to be, in some respects, quite vile. Quirky preoccupations we once might have thought of as being shared by a few friends or neighbours—oh, there’s Gord, mowing the lawn in his Mike Bossy jersey again—turn out to be thriving mass cults which not only celebrate evil, but flood your Twitter and Facebook timelines with it when so-and-so picks up a hat trick. And are we imagining things when we perceive subtle and horrid taxonomic distinctions between fandoms? Is it fact or fiction that Montreal and Toronto have a distinctive terrible habit of prematurely perching their goalies on a narrow, quavering pedestal? Are we fantasizing when we see an inexplicable difference between the passive, sleepy sarcasm of the Calgary Flames Nation and the flagellating, almost garish public angst of downtrodden Oil Country?

These are the mysteries of being a hockey fan in the 21st century. But some people came into the new world better prepared, and they are perhaps the bulk of the more tolerant, patriotic fans. Canada’s NHL teams are divided not only by geography but by history, and therefore many people who never knew a world without the Ottawa Senators have older relatives who have never quite let go of the Leafs or the Canadiens. (The actual existence of Senators fans is a conjecture we must ask the reader to accept without evidence.) Moreover, young people sometimes just apostasize outright from the faith of their fathers, or move to a new city just before an exciting local playoff run. In the real world, national loyalties are sometimes dual, and plenty of unimpeachably patriotic Canadians have a “second favourite,” or a lingering affection for some “old country” for perfectly natural and acceptable reasons. So too with hockey.

The NHL may soon be coming to more Canadian cities; rumours are rampant that the league is thinking better of its Sunbelt experiment and must start moving troubled franchises back to a place where hockey is measurably more popular than jury duty or a cleaning at the dentist. The gates of Quebec City, Hamilton, Saskatoon, and Stewiacke, N.S., stand ajar, waiting to welcome refugees from financially stricken “sand states.” The more this happens, of course, the greater will be the pressure on existing teams to bring home the Cup. Perhaps it really would be better if someone finally ended the absurd misery this post-season, even if it weren’t necessarily our own favourites. But, ugh, just as long as it’s not the Canadiens. Or the Leafs. Or the Sens or the Canucks.

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