There are only a handful of important questions that have the power to divide Canada.
What is our national dish? Where is our country’s most beautiful lake? Mittens or gloves for a snowball fight?
One question stands above them all and threatens to expose us for who we really are – especially when it comes to hockey: Stanley Cup or Olympic Gold Medal?
For us, the question is rhetorical. For Sidney Crosby, the photo speaks for itself.
But, if you had to choose between a Stanley Cup for your NHL team or Olympic gold for Canada’s men’s hockey team, which would it be?
Canadians are private about wealth, shy to share politics, forthcoming about culture but ferocious when it comes to hockey allegiances.
Passion lives in all places
Inside his home in Paradise, NFLD, lifelong Oilers fan Doug Facey has a varied collection of memorabilia. He rattles off his treasures: “I have 8 jerseys of all kinds, a welcome mat, a gnome, there’s a score clock downstairs, license plate, a few paintings of Gretzky my Dad gave me … everything with Oilers on it.”
On a family vacation from St. John’s to southern California, (a 12 hour travel day), Facey’s suitcase was lost somewhere between Toronto and LAX. According to family lore, and verified by Doug’s wife Lesley, he was famously concerned only about the Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov jerseys in the case.
“The only thing I said to the airline was give me the four jerseys back I’ll buy everything else new.”
There hasn’t been a Stanley Cup in oil country since 1990. Doug carefully makes his choice.
“I’d love to say both, but if you made me pick one I’d pick the Stanley Cup.”
He’s also points out, “I’ve seen two gold medals in the past 10 years,” and adds, “don’t get me wrong when they win the gold medal in Sochi I’m going to be going crazy.”
The energy flows both ways
A country so captivated by hockey attaches enormous importance to the men and women who play for us, nationally or professionally. And most of all, on the biggest international stage.
Fleury suggests the fan energy helped the team, “In Calgary, we only lost 4 games at home the whole year, we have passionate, knowledgeable fans.”
If the city played a small part in helping Fleury and his teammates realize childhood NHL dreams, perhaps the country should get an assist for every Olympic gold, “We claim hockey as our own, you’re not only representing Canada, you’re representing every kid who’s ever had a dream of putting that jersey on. The whole entire country lives and dies with you over that two week period.”
The sweetness of victory
The struggle to justify one choice over the other may be connected to the rare experience of absolute victory. After all, any team’s journey to triumph is significant for a community because it is personal for the fans.
Emma Billington grew up in North Vancouver listening to Canucks games on the radio with her Dad, and going to the odd game at the coliseum just off East Hastings.
“I do feel that Olympic gold is the biggest possible achievement in hockey, but after two decades of supporting the Canucks, I would love to see the Stanley Cup come to Vancouver at least once in my lifetime.”
Being a fan of an NHL team commands more attention during the calendar year, at least seven months and more if your team is any good. Opportunities to support the maple leaf on ice do not arise as frequently. Among televised events there are the World Jrs., the men’s or women’s world championships, the Spengler Cup and of course the Olympic Games every four years.
But absence doesn’t mean it’s less important.
As Canadian Olympic Team hockey fans, being able to stand up and thump our chests might not happen as often, but being Canadian is more subtle and constant.
We live it everyday.
Our city, our nation
The Shark Club is a busy restaurant a few minutes from Rogers Arena in Vancouver. This is of course the rink where Crosby scored the golden goal and a year later the Canucks came within a game of Lord Stanley.
Shark Club co-owner John Teti was there for all of it and has a hard time distinguishing between the energy level of both events.
“If Canada’s playing, the energy is tremendous. When the Canucks play, there are more locals but I would suggest Game 7 and the gold medal game are the same. There is no difference.”
Inside the walls of a local bar, perhaps there is no distinction because nobody can question our nation’s passion for the sport … in any capacity. But during the Olympic Winter Games, our homes and local establishments are no longer regional – we are one team.
So, all the best to your favourite NHL team as it hits the ice for the 2013-14 season this week. And just remember, as hard as you’re cheering now for civic pride, when we all wear the red and white the cheers are that much louder.
Stanley Cup or Olympic Gold? Tweet now to tell us!