Game Six of the Stanley Cup Playoff is tonight, possibly the last game of the 2012 series. I probably won’t watch; it is hard for me to get excited when we don’t have a Canadian team playing. Besides, June 11 feels far too late in the season to be playing for the championship of Canada’s national winter sport.
Until 1967 there were only six teams in the league, and we followed the games avidly, knowing the players and the stats. Now there are thirty.
The Stanley Cup playoffs date back to 1892 when the Governor General of Canada, the Lord Stanley of Preston, donated an award for Canada’s top-ranking amateur ice hockey club. Since then the cup has been awarded annually except in 1914 when the season was cancelled because of the Spanish flu epidemic and in 2005 because of a contract dispute.
Living this close to Toronto, of course we root for the Maple Leafs, the richest franchise in the league. Wikipedia tells us:
As of 2011 the Maple Leafs had won thirteen Stanley Cup championships, second only to the twenty-four championships of their primary rival, the Montreal Canadiens. They won their last championship in 1967. The 45-year drought between championships is currently the NHL’s longest, excluding teams added in the 1967 expansion which doubled the team count to twelve. They are the only “Original Six” team which has not won the Stanley Cup championship since.
…Maple Leafs home games have long been one of the toughest tickets to acquire even during losing seasons. Maple Leaf Gardens sold out every game from 1946 until the building closed in 1999. At [the Air Canada Center] the Leafs sold out every game since October 2002. As of 2008, there was a waiting list of about 2,500 names for season tickets. With an average of US $1.9 million per game, the Leafs had the highest average ticket revenue per game in the 2007–08 season; the previous season they earned about $1.5 million per game.
… Maple Leaf fans are loyal despite poor rewards—in a 2008 survey by ESPN The Magazine the Leafs were ranked 121st out of the 122 professional teams in the Big Four leagues. Teams were graded by stadium experience, ownership, player quality, ticket affordability, championships won and “bang for the buck”; in particular, the Leafs came last in ticket affordability.
… Conversely, fans of other teams harbor an equally passionate dislike of the team. In November 2002, the Leafs were named by Sports Illustrated hockey writer Michael Farber as the “Most Hated Team in Hockey”.
… With an estimated worth of US$521 million in 2011, the Leafs are the NHL’s most valuable, followed by the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
So, yes, the Leafs are “losers”, but they are very rich losers, and they are our losers! Just try teaching the boys in your grade four class that the plural form of the word leaf ends in ves. This leaves them in stunned disbelief that a Canadian teacher in a Canadian school could actually be so dumb!
There are a couple of interesting things I want to share with you about our national passion for hockey.
There is a wonderful story by Roch Carriere about the passionate loyalty of Canadian children to hockey, and especially to the Montreal Canadiens. Look at the image on a Canadian five dollar bill… it even includes a hockey sweater with Maurice Richard’s famous number nine, and in minuscule print, the opening sentence of this story. Here it is in a charming cartoon version.
SCTV (Second City Television) was a great comic success from 1976 until 1984. Everyone watched, and there would be imitations, improvisations, and discussions about the show in lunchrooms across the country. Among my friends, I can still elicit a laugh and a moment of nostalgic good humour by mentioning certain stars and episodes. It was our Monty Python.
John Candy was a beloved favourite. This video shows him as the quintessential Canadian kid, from the country, with a foreign name, playing road hockey in all weather, star struck about hockey and the prospect of playing professional hockey. The docudrama… or “mockudrama” is a rich send up of the films then being made by the National Film Board or with other government backing to promote film with Canadian content. All the clichés are there, including the really bad folk song! “Bay Street” Toronto, is the Canadian equivalent of “Wall Street”, so the Bay Leafs are the rich franchise from TO. The skit addresses the perennial themes of hockey violence and exploitation of naive raw talent… even the starry-eyed team groupie, the really bad wardrobe, and the skater’s walk.
Funny, but so true it hurts. Intelligent comic broadcasting… like Tina Fey’s send up of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live! There should be more comic brodcasting like this around, but everyone is so politically correct these days…. Could SCTV exist in 2012 and be as funny? The fat child-like adult? The mispronounced name? The harrassment of the animal rights activist? Enjoy! I could not embed it in the blog. The link is here! Or copy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeN3-Uq3iVI
Hockey night in Canada had its own distinctive opening theme until a copyright dispute saw it bought out by CBC’s rival network. A national contest was held to find a new theme… very successful, but quite unsatisfactory to those of us who grew up sitting with Dad to watch the game on Saturday night. Compare them here…. the original theme, given last, has an additional surprise.