The other day I turned on the television to find an NHL game in progress. I was shocked. I thought the hockey season ended months ago.
It had for me, anyway.
Stranger still, the game featured a team identified on the screen only as VGK.
VGK? Could it be the Viking Grain Kings? Victoria Grannies Knitting? Those seemed unlikely. So, I took to the Internet thingy, punched in the letters VGK, and found they stood for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas? LAS Vegas? I vaguely remember hearing that the NHL had awarded a franchise to Sin City, but I naturally assumed that the team would be stocked with the has-beens and future failures that usually populate expansion teams. But no, something has gone wrong. Or gone right, I guess. The Las Vegas Knights were not only a success right from the first puck drop, they are in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, exactly three more than the Oilers.
Well, good for them, I guess. But frankly, I don’t care. When it comes to the NHL, there are only a couple of results I care about. No. 1 is the success or otherwise of the Edmonton Oilers. If the Oilers don’t make the playoffs, my interest in hockey drops approximately 90%. From there, it’s not so much who wins, but who doesn’t win.
Once the Oilers are eliminated (which, this year, was sometime around January), only one thing really mattered to me – the elimination, preferably in the most humiliating way possible, of the Toronto Maple Leafs. My desire to see the Leafs fail is almost as strong as my desire to see the Oilers succeed. Everything about the Leafs – and by extension all Toronto sports franchises – fills me with a quiet rage.
When Torontonians call their city The Centre of the Universe, they say it only half jokingly. Toronto IS the centre of the universe, Canadian version. As a result, we are inundated with Toronto news, particularly when it comes to sports, and particularly the Leafs. TSN, and even more so Sportsnet, dote on the Leafs the way a small-town newspaper might report on their high school championship football team. The Hockey News (published in Toronto) had on its cover headlines that said, in reference to the Leafs, “Start Planning the Parade”. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also said “it’s not a matter of if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, but when and how many”. Browse any Chapters store and you will find a half-dozen books about the Leafs.I was in Chapters the other day, and I noticed a book called Young Leafs (that had been prominently displayed in the stores before Christmas) was now on the bottom shelf of the sports section. And there were A LOT of copies.
And it’s not just the Leafs. All sports teams from the “GTO” as the hipsters call it, are anointed as Canada’s teams. The Globe and Mail’s resident Toronto-adoring hack sportswriter, Cathal Kelly, wrote a column last month that proposed that the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association are “Canada’s team” because Toronto rap superstar Drake wore a Humboldt Broncos sweater during their first playoff game. Never mind that there’s not a Canadian on the team, but because they’re in Toronto, that’s all it takes to be Canada’s team. And don’t get me started on the grammatical nightmare that is the “We The North” slogan that today’s hipster young people love.
And then there’s the Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, the Sominex of sports. Judging from the number of Blue Jays jerseys and caps you see on faux fans, you’d think the entire country had Blue Jays fever. My guess is that if you stopped 100 people wearing Blue Jays gear and asked them to name one single Blue Jay – or even if they’ve ever watched a game – you’d get a blank stare, or a kick in the shins.
Happily, the Leafs crapped the bed in round one, so no need to plan a parade this year. Also happily, the Raptors are out of the NBA playoffs. As for the Blue Jays … who knows? The MLB season is approximately 8,000 games long, so its easy to ignore the Jays, with the exception of the daily Jays photo in the “Edmonton” Journal’s sports page.
So, is there any team to pull for in the NHL playoffs? Well, yes. The Winnipeg Jets are, by default, Canada’s team. And for once, we as a country can pretty much all support the Jets.
Every other Canadian team carries a lot of baggage. As I stated above, I hate the Leafs, and will never, ever pull for them. Many Canadians feel the same way about Montreal. The Oilers have a lot of haters because of their past success and the fact they lucked into no.1 draft choices and still suck. Calgary is, well, Calgary, and nobody likes Vancouver.
But who doesn’t like Winnipeg? The smallest city in the NHL, a city most famous for its marrow-freezing winters, a city that has no winning record in anything. They haven’t even won a Grey Cup in 27 years – and that’s in a nine team league! Maybe Regina has a hate on for Winnipeg, but that’s a football thing which probably doesn’t translate to hockey.
So, yes, the Jets are Canada’s team. But it won’t be easy.
I’m happy for Winnipeg, which is an underrated city. And remembering the playoff frenzy that used to infect Edmonton, I know how much the city is enjoying this. But if they get to the Stanley Cup finals, the little green monster in me kinda sorta doesn’t want them to win. I guess I’d rather see Winnipeg win than Washington, or especially Tampa Bay, which apparently has a team. And Las Vegas? That wouldn’t be right, although it would make a great story.
So, I guess I’ll support the Jets. But seeing the Jets win the Stanley Cup would be like seeing your homely idiot of a cousin dating the hottest girl in town. You’re officially happy for him, but jealous as hell. So, if the Jets win the Stanley Cup, I will applaud politely, and smile for them. I’ll be gritting my teeth, but I’ll be smiling.
Go, Jets … go… yes, that’s it, go Jets…