Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Canadian Double Standard

Tonight, the Vancouver Canucks honor one of the all-time good players in NHL history, Trevor Linden. And no, that’s not a typo. Trevor Linden was a good player. Nothing flashy. And yet, he’s treated like a god amongst the Canuck faithful and some of the Canadian media. And for what? He was a good ol’ Canadian boy playing for a Canadian team.

Look, I don’t want to take anything away from Trevor Linden. I really don’t have any issues with the Canucks retirement of his jersey. Here on Long Island I’m no stranger to a team reliving the past as a way to deflect attention from the present. But what does strike me about Linden was his ineffectiveness here on Long Island along with several other notable Canadian favorites.

And hell, who could blame them? There were more than a handful of reasons to be disappointed in playing for the Islanders. Things were a little different ten-plus years ago when these guys donned the fishsticks. ‘Financial crisis’ doesn’t quite capture the circus that was the time. One horrible year after another killed attendance in the Coliseum and after all, the bright lights of Nassau County aren’t exactly comparable to pretty much anywhere else.

Linden is not alone as far as former Islanders being honored in Canada. Wendel Clark was honored earlier this year by his Toronto Maple Leafs. And I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone throws a party for Kirk Muller. These three have more in common than just playing for the Islanders but that they failed to live up to expectations. Each one was a little different, but they were part of a long chain of disappointments. What separates them from the pack, however, is the fact that these bleed-maple-syrup Canadian boys seemed to lack that same 110% they gave with their former Canadian teams.

But the fact remains that these players did not live up to their billing, regardless of what happened off the ice. Clark’s numbers dropped considerably when he was on the Island, Trevor Linden was prone to long slumps and the Kirk Muller incident finally torpedoed Don Maloney’s questionable GM tenure and launched Mike Milbury’s. But this was all glossed over by the hockey and Canadian media when covering these careers.

Now none of this would be a problem except for the insistence that men like these gave their all, night-in and night-out, unlike those without Canadian passports. And here in lies the Canadian double standard: Canadians highlight everyone else's problems and forgetting their own.

I have to disagree slightly with some of the Rev’s comments from earlier this year. Players from different countries are different. The truth is that Europeans grow up with a different view of the NHL than North Americans. They don't follow teams, they follow fellow countrymen. They do watch live broadcasts of the World Championship every year and come out en masse to see the finals in those tournaments. Their style is a little different because of the rules and rink size, etc. And when they play abroad, they may not have the same motivation--just like so many Canadians that have played on Long Island.

And then we see European players return home when they still have a few years left simply to play in front of their own people. So at the end of the day, Europeans come with some different values. It doesn’t make them soft but spending years living in a different country—check that a different continent—can’t be easy. Yet the NHL is full of Europeans leading in a variety of categories so they can’t be too much softer than their Canadian colleagues.

Look, the point is that the Canadian grizzled hockey machines are myths. Everyone’s human and has their hang-ups. So as our colder North American brethren salute their legends, remember that even they didn’t always have all that heart with which Don Cherry speaks so highly of. Or maybe I’m just a silly, naïve hockey fan from the US.

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