Two, maybe three days a year max, I “hate” Canada — when U.S. national hockey teams face those of Canada. I put hate in quotes because I’m incapable of deep-seated antipathy toward my neighbors to the North. It’s a beautiful country filled with beautiful people, and it is the true home of hockey. Canada is very much my home away from home. How could any American hockey fan not love a country where more than a third of the population stops what they’re doing to watch hockey on television? But if there’s an issue of ongoing concern I have with my Canuck chums, it’s been with their behavior toward American national teams much of the past 10 years.
My father rang me in the office during the Americans’ 2-0 quarterfinal win over Switzerland this week. He was dismayed at the cheering and jeering he was hearing against the Americans, on the part of the large contingent of Canucks in the crowd. “It’s just . . . really bad,” Dad told me. I agree.
At their worst, a conspicuous vocal majority will sully the Star Spangled Banner before big international games featuring the U.S. Like Dad, I’ve been jarred by the anti-American sentiment too often exhibited by our cousins to the North. It hasn’t arrived with these Olympic Games, either; far from it.
As best as I can tell, the genesis of the souring in our hockey relations dates back to the onset of America’s military action in the Middle East in 2003. The incidents of disrespect have been most pernicious in Montreal over the years. There have been incidents with our anthem’s playing before 2003 up in Canada, and some of Canadian hockey’s leading personalities and commentators have attempted to tamp it down, but in terms of this ongoing and durable disdain, it seems premised on American foreign policy of the past decade.
What a shame. As if boorish behavior before and during a hockey game can effect change in American foreign policy. All it does is allow 10- or 12,000 really rude people to cast America’s best friend in a very dark light. It’s really, really poor form.
It needs to stop. And today would be the perfect day for a clean break from a bitter recent past. Today of course is the 50th anniversary of America’s first miracle in Olympic hockey. The moment should be acknowledged at today’s game. Respectfully and warmly. But today is also a celebration of a wonderfully renewed hockey rivalry, and it takes place in the ultimate competitive showdown of the Olympics. It is a great thing for hockey, I think, that the U.S. and Canada can meet in multiple international competitions and deliver great game after great game. Great hockey fans, of which there number at least 10 million in Canada, ought to savor this development.
Canadians are known for wanting the best possible hockey showdowns on hockey’s biggest stages. It’s a wonderful trait. Rooting for Norway or Switzerland, against the U.S., certainly runs counter to that.
There was no wretched rancor from Canadian hockey fans with either of America’s first two triumphs in the Olympics, and there should be none today if the Yanks triumph.
Our two nations are not just allies but the friendliest of neighbors, and in the warmest sense. Our daily commerce with one another traffics in the billions of dollars; we share a great deal of common cultural confluence; America has known no greater ally in its largest and most serious military entanglements. My favorite story about the greatness of Canada as a friend and neighbor is with its remarkable hospitality in the hours and days after the September 11th attacks. Tens of thousands of Americans were stranded in Canada from diverted flights then. Scores of Canadians then opened their homes to strangers from America, of course asking for nothing in return. I wasn’t surprised by the reception, but the scope of aid needed then was remarkable, and the Canadian response matched it.
Canada also played a pivotal role in the liberation of six American diplomats in Iran in 1979. America has no greater friend, and yet when billions of people around the world watch us compete in events like today’s, they’ll imagine us bitter foes.
We are lucky to be neighbors. Our differences are modest and idiosyncratic and endearing. And when it comes to high-stakes hockey and our two nations are vying for glory, the camaraderie between us should never be greater, the party never grander. Policy spats and trade quarrels of course will ever emerge, however at our games — especially at our biggest games against one another — we should put them aside and remember how well we have loved one another for about 200 years.
I’d have fans treat today’s gold medal game as I am. I want another heart-stopper, a classic, with both teams playing magnificently. And I want my guys to win. I have a friendly wager with one of my favorite Canucks, Kevin Kaminski. The loser will pick up a beer tab up in Portland, Maine, next summer when Killer runs his annual hockey camp for kids. One of us today will be greatly disappointed by the gold medal game outcome; both of us will be smiling widely when next we meet.