There are a few differences between me and Daily editor-in-chief-to-be Ed Ngai that you should know about. I’m a Sharks fan; he’s a Canucks fan. My team just swept his in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I can’t help but write about the NHL right now, but he’s so sick of hockey that he probably won’t even read this column, despite my effort to include (poke fun at?) him in this paragraph.
There’s one other thing you’ve probably already figured out: Ed is Canadian; I am American. That is to say: he is supposed to love hockey; I am not.
Nationality is a label that’s all too easy to associate with fans of the greatest professional sport on earth. American fans definitely feel the disparity. As a living counterexample to that stereotype, I do feel a bit marginalized in a sports market that treats the NHL as the awkward younger cousin of the MLB, NFL and NBA (though the NHL was founded second of the four), and I do feel like Canadian fans think they’re a bit better than me and my 17,561 friends at HP Pavilion (though 23 of the NHL’s 30 teams are located south of the border).
But even though American hockey fans are aware of the pseudo-rivalry between North and South, we don’t really mind it. There’s nothing an American fan hates more than having to listen to a second national anthem—how dare you keep me from my hockey!—and even if we rarely boo “O Canada,” which is only played at a game against a Canadian team, the start of “The Star-Spangled Banner” will elicit quite a round of cheers at any two-anthem game played on American soil. It’s all fine, as long as it’s left in the realm of the fans.
But that bubble was burst by Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa (one of Ed’s own) on Monday, the day after the Canucks had fallen to 0-3 in the series. Vancouver had allowed three power-play goals in its 5-2 loss in game three, but the Canucks weren’t too pleased with the eight penalties they had to kill. So Bieksa called out Sharks stars Joe Thornton and Logan Couture for embellishing on penalty calls, referring to them as “so-called Canadians.”
“Those are two Canadian guys who are supposed to be playing the game with integrity,” he added.
The comments were laughed at around the league. The refs had been spot-on the night before and Bieksa is considered one of the worst culprits on a Vancouver team that is itself well known for diving.
But just as interesting is Bieksa’s implication that Canadians are somehow supposed to uphold hockey’s integrity. Maybe it was just a bit of gamesmanship—Bieksa was, of course, speaking from a locker room in sunny San Jose—yet there’s something distinctly nationalist (in a bad way) about what he said. For those not familiar with the origin of the team name, “Canuck” is to Canada what “Yankee” is to America. But I can’t remember the last time Derek Jeter, a clean, American baseball player for the Yankees, pinned his sport’s steroid problems on the MLB’s Central Americans—or Ichiro.
So why should diving in hockey have anything to do with Canadian-ness? What does Bieksa have to say about the playing style of the Sharks’ Joe Pavelski, a Wisconsin native? (Bad example; Pavelski scored two goals each in games three and four to help eliminate Vancouver. But you get the point.)
I doubt Bieksa really meant that non-Canadians play dirty hockey. His own team’s stars, the Sedin twins, are Swedish; the goalie he plays in front of (almost) every night, Cory Schneider, is Bostonian. But it’s a bit disturbing that, in searching for a backhanded insult to deliver to the Vancouver media, “so-called Canadian” seemed to do the trick.
Mr. Bieksa, the NHL wouldn’t exist without non-Canadians. U.S. fans fill your pockets while American and European players fill your rosters. The league’s offices are located in New York City and the Stanley Cup has been won by an American team 20 years in a row.
So if the Canucks were just dominated by a team that is located in California—which is about as close to the opposite of Canada as you can get—and is led by Couture and Thornton, the two Ontario-born players who you don’t believe deserve to call themselves your countrymen…well, then maybe Canadians aren’t so good at hockey after all.
Take that, Ed.
The San Jose Sharks moving on to the second round means another week of Joseph Beyda sharking his responsibilities. Tell him whether that is a valid excuse or not at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.