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Canadian Success
by Rodi Blokh
Published in April 2002

Over the years, many people south of the border have forgotten that the National in National Hockey League stands for Canada, not the US. This fact is easily overlooked in an era where American teams outnumber Canadian 4-1. In an era in which a Canadian team hasn’t brought the Cup back to its birthplace since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, or even competed for it in a Final series since Vancouver in 1994. An era in which the Canadian economic slump has left Canadian NHL teams with less money to spend then their American counterparts. It is indeed a different era than that of the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty in the late 80’s. Through that period, Canada controlled the Cup for 7 straight years, 6 times by the Oilers and once by the Flames in 1989.

 

However, at least for a moment, this new era can be forgotten. At least for a few days, Canadian teams in the NHL seems to once again be on top. For at least a small bit of time, Canadians do not have to worry about their team folding and moving South due to lack of funds. They do not have to watch in misery as an American team with a roster full of talented, expensive players (most of them probably Canadian) beats up on their defenseless, obviously outmatched hometown hockey team. For a while, they can rest easy and enjoy the moment as their Canadian teams make them proud.

This season, 4 out of 6 Canadian teams qualified for the playoffs (Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver). At first glance, not an improvement over last season when the same number of Canadian teams qualified (Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver). Last season, however, only Toronto could advance to the 2nd round and then failed to beat the NJ Devils for the 2nd season in a row.

The improvement becomes apparent when you look at the Quarterfinals series thus far in 2002. Montreal, an 8th seed, beat Boston on its own ice in Game 1 to take the 1-0 lead. Toronto is up 2-0 over the NY Islanders. Vancouver, meanwhile, is in position to pull of an upset over Detroit, as the Canucks lead the series 2-0 and now head home for Games 3 & 4. Meanwhile, after a crushing OT loss in Game 1 to Philly, the Senators bounced back and defeated the Eastern Conference favorites 3-0 to tie the series. So, to recap, as of Sunday, April 21, three Canadian teams lead their series, two by a 2-0 margin, and one is tied 1-1 going into Game 3.

Last season, Vancouver was sweeped by the eventual Cup champs, the Colorado Avalanche. Edmonton was knocked out in 6 by Dallas. Toronto progressed to the 2nd round, but only after sweeping their Ontario roommates, the Ottawa Senators. Based on performance thus far, this season looks much more promising for Canadian teams.

Vancouver qualifying for the playoffs was a pleasant surprise for most, but their commanding 2-0 lead over the superhuman Detroit Red Wings is nothing short of a miracle. If Vancouver manages to pull this off, this series will be one of the greatest upsets in sports history. A small-market, overachieving group of youngsters takes down the all-star laden Detroit Red Wings.

But, let’s be honest. Are the Canucks going to win 2 more games to eliminate the Red Wings? Probably not. Can Ottawa defeat the Flyers? It can happen, but it most likely won’t. Will the Canadiens be able to overcome the Bruins? Also improbable. That leaves Toronto likely to once again become the only Canadian team to enter the 2nd round. What are the odds they will go all the way? Almost nonexistent.

But for this one instant, Canadians should enjoy the moment and relish it. For at least a small amount of time, they have taken their game back from America. For now, they have control over their respective series, not Detroit, not New York, not Boston. They, the creators, the original hockey players, own their game once again. Even if its for a little bit, Canadian NHL teams, most of them short on cash, have been able to overcome their rich American brethren. Although it is not the coming of a new era, this faint glimmer of an old one will do. 

 

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