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Editorial Rumblings – The Two National Hockey Leagues

There has been much talk about how there are no longer any Canadian teams left in playoffs. The same old song and dance happens almost every season when the last Canadian-based team falls out. We get to hear all about how no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did back in 1993 – again – and then they lament over the state of hockey in Canada.

And every time this circus breaks out, I can’t help but think, “This is one league, and not two, right?” Sure, seven Canadian cities haven’t seen a Stanley Cup parade in almost 20 years. But then, 12 US cities haven’t, either.

Those of us in the United States who get our hockey news from Canadian sources just suffer through it. And as ESPN, the so-called “World-Wide Leader in Sports”, chooses to disregard hockey, a lot of us do depend upon Canadian sources for news. Even if they don’t always provide much coverage for those teams located generally south of the 45th parallel.

For Americans, yes, there is only one league. But for Canadians, that’s a completely different story. They believe in two National Hockey Leagues, whether they realize it or not.

It’s sort of like that whole Montreal wanting a French-speaking team, just on a national scale. Many Canadians only want their Canadian teams, apparently. Though, if you speak to Canadian hockey fans, they’ll say that they’ll watch any hockey that’s on TV – Canadian-based teams or not. And, that’s probably true.

That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t prefer a Canadian-based team in playoffs over an American-based team, however.

The fact of the matter is, as soon as there are no Canadian teams in playoffs – and, actually, this will start even before then; the run-up to playoffs and how many Canadian teams make it in – it’s a big news story. In Canada. In the US, no one really cares. But then, the chances of having no American-based teams in playoffs is pretty much impossible, at least at the start. So, admittedly, that might have something to do with it.

What it comes down to is that the sport of hockey is part of the national identity for Canada. So naturally, anything in regards to hockey is a very big deal for them. It’s a lot of what makes certain cities riot whenever a team loses. If Canadian hockey teams aren’t the best, then what does that say about Canada?

What some Canadians fail to understand is that hockey is not a part of the American national identity – which is no surprise to anyone, if they thought about it. But because hockey for them is a nationalistic thing, they automatically pit Canada versus the US in regards to teams within the NHL, despite Americans not thinking that way at all. The American national identity is based upon wars and the events that surround them – the Revolutionary War, the US Civil War, and WWII – and not sports of any kind. Sports are simply entertainment for us, which is as it should be, and nothing more.

Sure, you’ll get fans chanting U-S-A at some NHL games, but that’s often in response to Canadians and their national obsession of making the sport Canada versus the US. It’s more to annoy than to be taken seriously. The only time those U-S-A chants should be taken seriously is during the Olympics, in fact. For the American NHL fans, they chant that to mock Canada, and not necessarily for nationalistic purposes.

So while many in Canada sincerely believe that it’s their Canadian National Hockey League versus the United States National Hockey League, it’s really not. Not even a little bit. We Americans just don’t care about where the teams are located. All we care about is the team and/or players we follow, regardless of country.

We roll our collective eyes when people say that that places like Saskatoon should get an NHL team. We sigh when we hear that Montreal wants a French-speaking GM and French-speaking coaches. We shake our heads when they say that teams need to move when fans won’t buy tickets to go see a team miss playoffs for the fourth season in a row. For all that they think they understand Americans, Canadians only get it about half-right.

Really, this Canada versus the US thing is all one-sided. Americans just see 30 teams, one league, and that’s it. It all seems pretty silly to most of us, but we Americans just accept that that’s how Canadians are – it’s one of their quirks.

Even still, it does make me wonder how many of the problems that the National Hockey League has to deal with come out of this Canadian-perceived dualism.

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