What is it with Canada anyway? Over the last few months, tensions have been building around the World Cup of Hockey as if the Red Sox or Cubs were in the World Series: If Canada didn’t win, there would be a national crisis. Now that “we” have won the thing, you would think that a city like Montreal—being, last time I checked, a hockey town if there ever was one—would have a bit of a party.
After the final game ended, I headed out for a little run. I was wearing my red pants and my Team Canada sweater (the 1990s vintage world cross-country running championships version) and was looking to take in the usual sights and sounds of a championship victory party. As I jogged down St. Laurent Boulevard—“The Main,” supposedly—I saw a few Iginla and Sakic jerseys wandering down the street, quietly, casually, happily, as if the Flames or Avalanche had won a mid-season game against a close rival. Then I heard a car horn. Aha, I thought, here we go. As the bleating approached, I could see the usual suspect leaning out of the passenger window waving a large flag. Closer, closer … no! It was the Finnish blue cross! What the hell? Oh well, at least they’re good sports, those Finns.
Finally, as I got to the corner of St. Laurent and St. Catherine, there were some louder honks. I even got roared at by a couple of happily loaded hockey fans (much better than angrily loaded hockey fans—see Vancouver 1994). Still, it was weak. There was a more constant flow of Greek soccer fans after their first-round victory over Portugal this summer than there were Canadian hockey fans out in Montreal that night. If there are any objections to comparing the European Championship to the World Cup of Hockey, how about this?: There was a bigger party on Calgary’s 17th Avenue after the Flames lost game six of the Stanley Cup final—they lost and there was a bigger party! Apparently, there was a World Cup bash in Toronto, but hey, even I can admit that Toronto hockey fans have a problem with overcelebration, so to have an actual championship won by the home team … well, let’s not go there.
Predictably, there were crowds of rowdy folks outside the Peel Pub and on Crescent Street, but even rocking taxicabs can be considered humdrum Tuesday-night fare in a university town. And as I looped back through Westmount, I actually heard a cricket. Maybe he was celebrating?
Even the players’ on-ice trophy celebration was weak. Some argue it was because of the funny-looking trophy (his design was considered so atrocious, Frank Gehry actually offered to redo it) or because of the impending NHL lockout. I think the awkward victory celebration, and the paucity of revellers on the Montreal streets, had more to do with embarrassment at how easy it was. My first thought was that it was arrogance—ho-hum, another championship—or the fact that the World Cup is really the Canada Cup and therefore ours to do with as we please, but that’s just not the Canadian way.
As the players gave the usual post-championship interviews, captain Mario Lemieux said something about “battling through adversity,” but the truth of the matter is there wasn’t much adversity at all: Canada had enough players to ice two championship teams, so injuries weren’t a problem; Canada got to play all of its games at home, either in Montreal or Toronto; and the other countries took this tournament with varying degrees of seriousness (the Americans weren’t in it, the Czechs played two tough games out of five, the Russians sent their under-23 team). The deck was stacked heavily in Canada’s favour, and for good reason. The only end result that was going to sell was Canada in the final. I know those are all real people out there, and nothing is for sure, but next time, how about a real tournament, eh?
Because my beloved Leafs won’t be breaking my heart again anytime soon, I thought I would evaluate the performance of the various Maple Leafs in this recently completed tournament. It is notable that there was no player representation from Toronto on Team Canada. In his autobiography, Darryl Sittler, the former Leafs captain, recalls that his and Lanny McDonald’s selection to the 1976 Canada Cup team was a token, because the “decades-long lack of success” in Toronto under Harold Ballard “meant that Toronto fans were pretty much excluded from a more personal stake in … headline international competitions.” Toronto fans had many “hometown” heroes to cheer for in World Cup 2004; they just weren’t playing for Canada.
Canada’s head coach is a Maple Leaf, though, and you can’t really find fault with the job Pat Quinn did with this team. Why can’t he lead the Leafs to a championship? Well, a line of Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla will make any coach look good.
Mats Sundin was a force in the faceoff circle for Sweden, and he did his best to make their high-powered offence overcome the poor work of another Toronto property, Mikael Tellqvist, in goal.
Aki Berg handled himself surprisingly well. He was not a thorn in Finland’s side, and did not cause them to lose games. Maybe this tournament will lead to a breakthrough of some kind for ol’ Punching Bag Aki.
Robert Reichel isn’t really a Leaf anymore, but Tomas Kaberle is. Kaberle played reasonably well for the Czech Republic, getting one assist (in the game against Canada) and ending up as a +3. Reichel, on the other hand, was –4 in his four games, and Leafs fans are thankful he’s headed back to Europe. I always thought he would do better as a first- or second-line centre, with a big strong winger. Unfortunately, the Leafs are so deep at centre that Reichel was relegated to a defensive role, which he doesn’t seem to handle well. Maybe that’s what happened here. Think back: At the 1990 World Junior Championships, on a line with Jaromir Jagr and Bobby Holik, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Brian Leetch and Ken Klee were solid for the US on defence. Leetch looked particularly good in the games that the US won, and he clearly hasn’t lost any of his skill, despite being thirty-six years old.
So that’s it, folks. Show’s over. No more hockey until … who knows? In two weeks’ time, I’ll discuss what’s happening on the collective bargaining front (if anything) and try to figure out just exactly what “escrow” means.
John Lofranco is a Montreal-based writer, teacher and distance runner. The Masochist gets rough in the corners every second Wednesday.