It’s ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’

An American friend asked recently, why do Canadians cheer for NHL teams in Canadian cities outside their own during the playoffs?

Born and raised in the Detroit area, he’s a Red Wings fan to the bone who’d never even dream of cheering for Boston or Chicago or Washington, even if his beloved Wings weren’t a part of the post-season dance.

I responded, “Because we’re outnumbered.” That probably wasn’t the right answer.

The Stanley Cup. Courtesy image.

It might be one of the charming things about Canadians and maybe it’s one of the little things that helps define us. But why do we do it?

For instance, on nights when the Vancouver Canucks aren’t going toe to toe with the Chicago Blackhawks, virtually every hockey fan I know here (vociferously) cheers on the Montreal Canadiens in their series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Are Canucks fans hoping the Habs win the Stanley Cup? Hardly.

The thought of Montreal hoisting their 25th Stanley Cup doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart much, but I’d rather the Habs win it than say any other U.S. team, if either the Canucks or my hometown Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in it (and the latter hasn’t been since I was born save for two seasons in the mid 90s, but I digress).

There are Canadians on all of the 30 NHL teams. In fact, every team’s roster is pretty much dominated by Canadian born players, so who is it we’re cheering for and against exactly?

Is it for civic pride? Can’t be. Brand preference? Possibly but likely not. What about nationalism? Now maybe we’re onto something eh?

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest Canadians suffer from an inferiority complex next to our American neighbours. I’m more inclined to call it a ‘little brother’ or ‘little sister’ complex. In other words, when you’ve got the chance to best your older, more dominant sibling, it’s a potential cause for celebration provided you pull it off.

Most Canadians believe hockey to be a Canadian game and the Stanley Cup to be second only to the Cup of the Covenant. That none of Canada’s six NHL squads has won the grand prize since Montreal in 1993 is a bit of a sore point.

Or perhaps it is due to an inferiority complex. As our late former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau said to the Press Club in Washington, D.C. in March 1969: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Nothing seems to effect us more than watching the Stanley Cup won by a U.S. based club year after year.

What do you think?

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3 Responses to It’s ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’

  1. 4legsgood says:

    While I read this I immediately thought, “As a NY Rangers fan, would I support another NY metro team after they were eliminated?” My immediate response: NOOOOOOO!

  2. Kevin says:

    Certainly a thought-provoking piece. As a Bruins fan who lives in Toronto, I may bring a different perspective here. I am a Bruins fan because of Bobby Orr – I consider geography when I’m cheering for my country’s team in the Olympics or in World Cups etcetera. As you correctly point out, there may, in fact, be more Canadian players on non-Canadian based hockey teams. As an example, the hated Habs had zero current roster players which participated on the recent gold medal team from Canada. Of the remaining seven teams in the playoffs, every team has at least one player who was a member of the gold medal winning team (or in the case of Detroit – the head coach).

    I also found your reference to Trudeau’s comment interesting. There is no question that sharing a border with a nation that has fully ten times our population in a smaller geographic area has lead to the inferiority complex that you refer to. Pierre Berton wrote a book “Why we act like Canadians” which is actually a real strong commentary on the similarities and contrasts in our national identities and I recommend it….

  3. “Because we’re outnumbered” may not have been the right answer, but it was a truthful one. True enough.

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