Om Nom Nom
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
From the stellar ratings, to the nicknacks in Harper’s office – Canada clearly cares about the Canucks. Whether you’re rooting for the Canucks, or obsessing over your hatred for their greasy, diving ways – you’re watching the games, and you have an opinion. So they don’t “represent you” – of course they don’t – unless you were born in Vancouver, moved there, or developed an affection for the team through the osmosis of knowing, dating, or working with a huge fan. Obviously, the only team that represents Canada is the national team. Either way, Canada cares what happens to this team, and lots of neutral fans are rooting for them – that’s just fact.
What I’m sick of hearing about, is the complaints that the Canucks play “the wrong way.” The wrong way is to be eliminated in April. Other than the nearly epic hiccup against Chicago, the Canucks are steam-rolling through the playoffs, and for the most part they’re doing it by playing a skillful, entertaining brand of hockey. Sure they dive, but why wouldn’t they? They have the leagues best power-play, and the rules permit, nay encourage, selling calls. You want to prioritize honour on your hockey team? Enjoy drafting in the top-10.
Here’s a list of teams that play hockey in a way that frequently annoys, or disgusts me: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Vancouver. What do these teams have in common?
I remember watching the world-cup final last summer, and Spain bothered me to no end. They dove, they suffocated opponents with quality defence and controlled the pace of the game with safe possession tactics. I was rooting for the Dutch and was blind to the quality of game Spain was playing – I found their tactics morally repugnant and sputtered in anger at the way they won. My Dad started mocking me, “you’re missing the forest for the trees,” he told me, “this side is the best-coached and most skilled. They’re making damn sure they win by playing up every possible advantage they have, and they’re playing gorgeous football. You want to get mad about a dive here and there, or do you want to enjoy their mastery of the sport?”
He was right. You can moralize about the Canucks, you can claim that you’d rather cheer for a team that “wins the right way” (whatever that means) or you can enjoy the tremendous quality of hockey that this Canucks team is bringing to the rink game in and game out. Frankly, I don’t care which option you choose.
I’ve rooted for “lovable loser” Canucks teams (most of the time), as well as “under-achieving overpaid slug” Canucks team (the Messier era) for my entire life. After the Bertuzzi punch, I suppose, the Canucks stopped being “lovable losers” for a season and a half, and turned into “loathsome chokers.” But once the shadow of Bertuzzi was gone, the team was a hard-working, over-achieving, under-matched group, destined to lose in the second round in perpetuity. Frankly – I was sick of it.
Enter this years team, a well-oiled, cynical, machine of vets with one single-minded goal: the pursuit of a Stanley Cup. If the odd “sell-job” would help win games, they were prepared to do it. If they had an agitating winger who occasionally crossed the line in order to get another team off their game – so be it. You want fidelity – marry a swan. You want to watch “honour in action” – watch a Disney movie. If Attila the Hun skated with the Sedins and scored clutch goals, I’d root for him too.
Which, brings us to Alex Burrows, and his WWE villain turn over the last few days. Let’s get this out there first of all: biting another grown man is a really weird thing to do, and Burrows obviously deserved to be suspended. But he wasn’t, and it’s not worth getting sanctimonious over. Burrows does some really dumb stuff on occasion, and the two incidents that stand out as basically indefensible to me (from this season) were the crotch-shot he gave Marc Staal, and the Bergeron bite. There’s no place for either in hockey, and I’d love to see Burrows stop it with those sorts of antics.
That being said, we’re talking about a guy who was the 10th leading scorer for a team called the Grrrowl (was unable to confirm whether or not they were owned by Avril Lavigne) in the ECHL, a guy who had to scratch and claw his way into the league. And he didn’t just make it into the league as a checker, he’s a consistent 50 point scorer and a difference maker come playoff time. Alex Burrows is used to doing whatever he has to do, and his willingness to go where others won’t in terms of agitating opponents is what has given him the chance to have the sort of game he had last night.
Now let’s not miss the forest for the trees – Burrows is a peach off the ice, and on the ice – though he can often be a total jerk and embellisher – hes’ not the sort of cheap-shot artist who intentionally tries to injure other players (cough, Matt Cooke, cough, Zdeno Chara). He’s as aware a player as there is in the NHL (look no further than his OT winner for proof of that), and though reasonable people can disagree, I don’t think he was trying to hurt Bergeron by biting him, he was trying to piss Bergeron and the Bruins off. It worked.
In the future, I’d hope that Brendan Shanahan will have the stones to suspend Burrows for that sort of action, and I also hope he’ll have the stones to suspend Horton for his antics in game 6 against Tampa. In fact, I can mention 10+ incidents this season, and four or so this playoffs, where I wish the NHLs supplementary discipline office wasn’t totally spineless, but there you have it. This is the game we choose to care about, and you can’t honestly say you were surprised by the NHLs decision not to suspend Burrows.
Boston fans who are whining about this – and there are a lot of them – get especially riled up when you bring up Nathan Horton’s incident with the fan in game 6 of the Tampa Bay series. They’ll point out, quite rightly, that there is no equivalence between squirting a water bottle at a fan and biting an opposing player. But both actions cross the line of acceptable player behaviour, have no place in the game, and have previously been considered offences grave enough to warrant suspension. I won’t even bring up the biting accusation levied at a now injured member of the Bruins – who I really hope is able to live a normal life in the future – just last playoffs. History doesn’t get suspended – you can just see the NHL commercial being produced about it at this very moment.
Simply put the Bruins don’t own the moral high-ground here, any more than the other 28 teams do. Look at the shot Tim Thomas gave Mason Raymond at the end of the third, or the two-handed slash Peverly delivered to the back of Bieksa’s knee in the 2nd period. Don’t tell me you’re rooting for the Bruins, because, unlike the Canucks they want to “win the right way.”
You have two options over the remaining games of this Stanley Cup Finals – you can erect an imago of the “fair playing hockey team” and find the Canucks lacking in comparison. Or you can enjoy the crisp passing, the intelligent finishing, the stellar team defence, the clinical goaltending of Roberto Luongo and stop deluding yourself.