By Jason Menard
It’s amazing how those so-called Canadian hockey ‘fans’ – the very same ones who are generally so vociferous about returning hockey to abandoned Canadian NHL markets – have little to say now that one of their own franchises is allegedly in danger.
It’s only fitting that on a night when the Edmonton Oilers are in la belle province to pay a visit to the Montreal Canadiens, a story has emerged that key senior administration members of the Albertan NHL franchise have met with Quebec City officials to discuss relocation.
Interesting. That regular group of carrion who usually love nothing more than to circle the not-quite-dead corpses of NHL franchises got quiet all of the sudden. I guess it’s OK to wish ill on franchises as long as their south of the border.
Do I believe that the City of Champions will be without its iconic franchise? No. Like most whispers, this is nothing more than a way to stoke the flames – no offense intended Edmonton fans – of the fan base to put pressure on the local government to help support the financing of a new arena. In fact, if there is one former dynasty that I’d peg to move, it would be the four-time Stanley Cup-winning New York Islanders, not the former WHL-franchise that succeeded it as an NHL dynasty.
But where are all those so-called Canadian hockey fans who would love nothing more than to wrest a team out of non-traditional hockey markets like Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, or Florida? Why are they not champing with the same fervour at the bit that’s being presented to them?
So it’s OK to steal a U.S. franchise, but not a Canadian one, then? These same fans will hold Winnipeg and Quebec City’s moves to Phoenix and Colorado, respectively, up as evidence that relocating a franchise north of the border isn’t just smart business – it’s almost divine providence. A karmic realignment righting a past societal wrong. But a Canadian franchise moving to another Canadian market? I guess there’s no ready-made righteous indignation for that.
Fans are fans, regardless of what kind of passport you own. I am not one for putting words in quotes (or finger quotes), but to call these Canadians waiting to benefit from the misfortune of U.S. hockey interests fans is a bastardization of that word.
If you truly love the game of hockey, then you want it to expand and succeed in those so-called non-traditional hockey markets. We’d want it to grow so that it would actually earn its place in the big four of North American sports, instead of assuming its place in a manner similar to the slightly creepy uncle that’s allowed to eat at the big table more out of courtesy than any sort of familial acceptance.
Recently I had the distinct pleasure of writing a piece on Stefan Noesen, who currently plays for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL (at time of this posting, the article has not yet been published on hockeysfuture.com. I’ll link to the file as soon as it’s live). Noesen is a passionate hockey fan – a talented forward who has NHL aspirations and NHL dreams fuelled by his talent, work ethic, and improved maturity. He’s a great kid, extremely polite and self-aware, and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to meet such a talented and likeable young man. He plays the game the Canadian way, with a Canadian attitude.
Oh, did I mention that Noesen’s from Plano, Texas? Born and raised, in fact, moving only a couple of years ago to Michigan to play within the Compuware system. And the biggest reason for him getting to where he is right now, draft eligible in 2011 and one of the OHL’s bright young stars? A little franchise known as the Dallas Stars.
You know Dallas. Used to play in a strong hockey market in Minnesota. Embarrassingly spent a year bearing the inappropriate moniker North Stars before switching to their current name. Led, at the time, by Mike Modano – an American, no less, who invested his time and effort in fostering an interest in hockey amongst Texan youth. At the time, people were up in arms about how you could move a franchise from a proven hockey community (even though, at the time, high school and NCAA ruled) and place it in the Lone Star State.
And now Texas is a hockey hotbed – in every sense of the word. It’s also a state that’s enjoyed a long history in hockey, including hosting a WHA franchise, the Houston Aeros, that was notable not just for winning back-to-back league championships (1973-74 and 1974-75), but also for suiting up the likes of Mark and Marty Howe, and their father – Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie.
Would Noesen have found his way to the rink without an NHL franchise in the area? Maybe, but it would be less likely. Might there not be similar stories in those other cities that have franchises that Canadian so-called ‘hockey fans’ would love nothing more than to poach? While Canadians comprise just under 55 per cent of all NHL players, guess which is the second-best player-producing country? That’s right — the U.S. with over 20 per cent of the league’s players.
In the end are these Canadian ‘fans’ actually committed to bringing a team to Winnipeg, Hamilton, or Quebec City? No, they’re more interested in rectifying a perceived affront to their sense of hockey’s dignity. Smallish Canadian cities, good; large American metropolises south of St. Louis? Bad. And that’s got nothing to do with hockey.
Yes, I’d love to see a renewal of the Nordiques/Habs rivalry (and a return of one of the greatest uniforms in the history of all sports). I think Winnipeg got shafted when the Jets flew south of the border, and I’d love to see Hamilton finally get a crack at the NHL. Hell, I’d love to see a team in Saskatoon and a second franchise in both Toronto and Montreal (bring back the Maroons or the Wanderers!)
But I don’t want to see it at the expense of fans of the Thrashers, Coyotes, Panthers, or Predators. And nor should any true hockey fan.