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CAM COLE


MIASUN

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The hockey gods may seem to be ganging up on Vancouver, as the Canucks open training camp this weekend with echoes still reverberating from their unseemly collapse against Boston in the Stanley Cup final, the ensuing civic riots, and the heartbreaking death of 27-yearold Rick Rypien, by his own hand, this summer.

But really, it's all of hockey that's feeling criticism from around every corner at the moment.

It's the National Hockey League itself that's under more scrutiny than ever, with pressure mounting to act decisively on head blows, on concussions, on the questionable role of fighting, on suicides and painkiller addictions - and how all of these seem to be parts of the same cynical equation.

After a column the other day about the absurdity of NHL prospects camps that feature long shots fighting other long shots in order to draw the attention of NHL coaches and general managers, a high-ranking club executive wrote to wonder why we can't have a rational discussion about fighting in hockey without name-calling.

Well, we can. In fact, he might be surprised to find that the writer - despite having been warmly welcomed to the antifighting camp by readers these past two days - is not yet convinced that there is no place for the occasional heat-of-battle tilt between two players who have enough skill to play a regular shift in the NHL.

Not to say there's no possibility of a change of mind on that score, either. Just right now, it's hardly a slam dunk that players who engage in the odd anger-release scrap (but don't do it for a living) are anywhere near as likely to be susceptible to concussions/depression/ painkiller dependency as boxers, mixed martial arts fighters, football or rugby players - good Lord, did you watch Canada-Tonga? - or soccer players who practice heading a weighty leather ball every day, or athletes in any number of other contact sports.

So while it's good to be vigilant and open to new research, the idea of banning any form of contact that might potentially lead to any or all of the evils described above isn't terribly practical, in the real world.

Ruminating on all of this, however, amid dozens of emails from people who are plainly passionate about the debate, leads to other thoughts about hockey and its exalted place in the Canadian consciousness.

Herewith, a few: Staged fights: There is no justification for them, beyond the blood lust of fans, and no reason to employ the one-trick ponies who engage in them. They don't affect the outcomes of hockey games, don't set the tone for future meetings, don't prove anything about a team's toughness or lack of it. What began with Dave (Hammer) Schultz, or thereabouts, should end with Derek Boogaard and Rypien and Wade Belak, and the game will be the better for it.

It's the easiest place for GMs to insert the scalpel without affecting the essential nature of the game, and gain some brownie points from the public at the same time.

The national stereotype: No one can say we don't deserve to be parodied as igloo-dwelling nerds who don't know about anything but hockey. Case in point, this week's all-consuming fascination (no doubt partly driven by media and NHL team websites) with how distant draft picks and other young suspects are doing against their opposite numbers from other NHL organizations at pre-training camp tournaments, which are - let's face it - glorified junior games, only without the intensity.

It reveals an unhealthy fixation on a single sport, a fanatical devotion to the insignificant that is in no way constructive, or terribly flattering.

The oracles were right: It's been said by media wags, and gets a laugh every time, that if Brian Burke and Ron Wilson had known there'd be years like this, they'd have never invented hockey.

But long before they were the brain trust of the Toronto Maple Leafs, what they said years ago, separately, about Canadian NHL teams has certainly stood the test of time.

Wilson said that Canadians love their teams to death. Burke said the suffocating pressure on Canadian NHL teams by their hometown markets may be as good an explanation as any for why a Canadian-based club hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 18 years.

Of course, he also said the same sort of pressure might prevent Canada from winning the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics.

The puck fetish: There's a reason Stanley Cup riots happen in Montreal and Edmonton and Vancouver. We Canadians, as a species, care too deeply, invest too much emotion, and frequently lose our minds over this game - you only need to look at the online reader comments accompanying an NHL story to know how many have utterly lost any sense of perspective.

No wonder an entire class of NHL star-calibre players finds it less onerous, safer, and every bit as rewarding to be on the other side of the border in a market that respects but doesn't obsess about hockey - a Detroit, a Boston, a Chicago, a Buffalo, a Pittsburgh, a Philadelphia, a San Jose - among a populace that cares but doesn't strangle.

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/Cole+Canadians+invest+much+emotion+over+this+game/5404871/story.html#ixzz1Y7tbwgXR

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Here's my take:

Do we care too much? Hockey is under fire from every angle it seems and right now the fans are the next ones being examined. I certainly believe there is some credibility to the pressure causing the Canadian slump theory but a lot of it is simple math. Until Winnipeg relocated this year, Canada had a 1 out 5 chance of winning the cup every season; add to that the seasons when the dollar was horrible, without a salary cap and the chances of all 6 teams being competitive are further diminished. Plus, our cities are not the most attractive weather or tax wise for free agents. Chances are further diminished. I would say during the cup slump 3/6 teams each season had no legitimate hope of winning the cup. That gives Canada a 1 out of 10 chance. That means a lot would have to go right. 5 times in the last 18 years we've come very close. Or, math wise we've been 5 out of the last 36 teams standing. So, mathematically we are doing about as well as can be expected.

Does my answer prove Mr. Cole's point? Absolutely. We obsess over hockey. I am a Canadian at heart but I live in Miami, giving me a unique perspective. I just attended the MNF game between the Dolphins and Patriots. The average NFL city is equally as passionate as the average NHL city. The big-time football cities Chicago, Philly, Boston, New York, Dallas, Green Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh actually almost 3/4 of them are even more insanely obsessed with their football teams as Canadians are with hockey.

The media scrutiny, payroll, fan discussion, paparazzi and ESPN coverage for lets say the Chicago Bears (because I lived there 5 years) is greater than that of the Montreal Canadiens. Believe me, if Chicago wins a super bowl, the celebration is getting rowdy. At the very least, the fan obsession is equal.

Guess what? The same theories of fan pressure prevail in these NFL cities, particularly Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Those are excuses. Simply put, the teams didn't come through. The fan pressure is also what propels many of these teams. I've lived in Chicago while the Bears were making a run to the Super Bowl, the support is ENORMOUS. The atmosphere is incredible and the other team is intimidated when they come through the city. The same can be said of the Canadiens during a Stanley Cup run. Do the fans obsess too much in regards to both sports? OF COURSE.

Nobody DESERVES millions of dollars to catch a football or a slapshot. However, I argue that Sports have become much more than a game in todays society. They are an escape.

For all of the hardworking people of the real world we get to escape into a fantasy world where wars, debt, loans, unemployment and illness are simply forgotten for 3 hours at a time. To me, that's far better than the alternative world without an escape. So, if Roberto Luongo can't stand the million dollar fantasy heat pressure tell him to get INTO a real kitchen and wash dishes for a living. Otherwise, enjoy the privilege of living in a parallel universe where pressure to perform FAR outweighs the pressure of feeding your family.

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I've read both the article and your perspective. What you say about and what can be clearly observed about other leagues in the other cities mentioned is exactly why there doesn't seem to the so-called "strangle" by the fans on their team. Sure, various Canadian cities have other teams to be fanatical over but the main one we see is hockey because that is the dominating sport. Looking at those cities mentioned, they have much more options - if you will - to which sports team they are "obsessed with". And it's not even the just the NFL but also the college level of football, basketball etc. There is just a whole different landscape over the boarder than there is here.

To add to that, we all know how the NHL seems to take a back seat to almost everything south of the boarder in terms of media and what have you. But there are still places that go stir crazy for their team. And I've seen fans from all over the NHL be as crazy and scrutinizing as what seems to be so rampant in only Canada. There is just not the same type of numbers.

But all of this, I feel amounts to nothing. It is what it is. And I feel this because of your last two paragraphs. Sports have become an escape. Personally, I feel almost offended as a fan and as a Canadian of this. I belong to another community online. Not a forum like this but a website which is almost like a personal blog and I follow and read a lot and hear a lot about how in moments when people were in bad places, hockey was there. It was the one constant in their life that could take them away. This of course stemmed from the fact that not only were they all fans but they all enjoyed it first. It's not like out of nowhere they turned on the TV started watching a game of hockey and their troubles went away. It was because of their very interest and fan "obsession" that made hockey this escape for them. And I can say that I can completely relate to that. Now, this is just a certain example. But exactly what MIASUN said in his last paragraph is what it is.

It is, however, also a business which is the part that I don't like to think about because when I do, it makes it less of an escape for me. But it's hockey.

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Beaubie, thank you for taking the time to read all of this.

I certainly enjoyed your perspective as well. Sports are a great release for all of us, the business of it is truly frustrating but more or less the same as Hollywood in that regard yet we all get much more of a rush watching PK rush up the ice than will smith fight aliens!

I hope this stimulates more discussion i think this is an interesting topic.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I love being a Hockey fan. I've grown up with it as part of my life, I've always been a Canadiens fan. Unfortunately, I'm young, so I've never seen the Canadiens win the cup. However, I love hockey for the speed, the skill, the physicality, it's all so entertaining. Also, it does provide an escape whenever I'm feeling down. Watching Cammalleri score a goal and drop to one knee fills me with excitement. When you break it down, it's really silly, but I just feel this connection to what's happening on the ice, because I've played, watched, and loved hockey my whole life.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Are we too passionate?

Yes.

But I will tell you, nothing can bring a community together like sports. I live in Michigan. All the things with the economy that you hear happened to us first. And we got worse just as fast in 2008. But right now, there is nothing better than the Lions to bring that city back together. Its hard to describe. Look at New Orleans when the Saints won the Super Bowl. And if you ask me, the question isn't about whether hockey fans are too obsessed but about whether or not sports deserve their place in our culture. And if you ask me, the positive way they impact a community, even down to a high-school size one, way overpowers the negative side.

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