Henrik Sedin apologizes for being Swedish, shouldn’t have to

“You’re kidding me,” Don Cherry once said of the player that the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Wendel Clark for back in 1994. “I hope somebody’s kidding me that you would trade Clark for Mats Sundin.” 

You’d like to think those sorts of attitudes have receded with the passage of time. As players like Lidstrom and Chara have proven that Europeans can play tough hockey and captain NHL teams to Stanley Cup glory, you’d think such attitudes would start to become extinct. At least that’s what you’d hope. Tony Gallagher, however, went full Don Cherry in his Canuck Hat-Trick post from Wednesday morning, and you should never go full Don Cherry. “Is this guy supposed to be a banger or a Euro?” What an unconventional way to lead off a thought.

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The antiquated meme that Canadians are tough guys while Europeans are weaklings who grew up wanting Olympic Glory and don’t care about hoisting the cup is still prevalent in old-school hockey circles. But Cherry’s weekly rants that lend only credibility and showcase the positive play of a few Canadians who still play the old school way that Cherry learned in the 1970s is one thing, a columnist for a newspaper writing these actual words and sending them to an editor, who published the piece online, is quite another.

This archaic mindset doesn’t escape the notice of Europeans playing in the league. After Henrik Sedin saw his brother get smoked by Duncan Keith with a vicious elbow to the face later that day, you could tell Henrik was frustrated with the way that the story was likely to get spun in the Chicago or national newspapers.

“You have to ask Keith,” said Henrik about words that may have been exchanged prior to the collision. “He’s a tough Canadian guy, so I am sure he is going to be honest.”

“They are tough team over there and we’re the diving bunch so I guess there’s not much to say about that.”

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The Canucks do dive, certainly. But so do the Blackhawks, and every team down the NHL’s alphabetical food chain from Anaheim to Winnipeg. Diving and Jerkpuck techniques are not restricted to any one nationality, race, sexual orientation or franchise. It happens, sadly. It’s part of the game.

“He has to act bigger,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom, as if almost right on cue. “He’s a Hakws leader. Leaders can’t lose like that.”

Hockey’s political thought leader until about five years ago was never taken by Sundin in a Leafs jersey, even as Sundin surpassed George Armstrong, Ron Ellis, Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler on his way to being the highest scorer ever in the history of the franchise. Sundin was the centrepiece on some terrific (and tough) Leafs’ teams in the late-90s and early 00s, leading the team in playoff scoring five times in eight runs in Toronto.

But to Cherry, it wasn’t good enough. You still need a good Canadian captain who can win you a Stanley Cup, and don’t think this didn’t affect perception of Sundin. The article linked above mentions that while Doug Gilmour and Curtis Joseph would have piles of autographed merchandise sold by Frozen Pond, a well-established memorabilia company, Mats Sundin didn’t move enough gear to even qualify as a distant third.

In that story, Pat Quinn, former Leafs and Canucks coach, is quoted as saying “I think we as Canadians sometimes put an extra rung on the ladder that guys that weren’t Canadian had to climb to become loved by us.”

Even as Henrik and Daniel Sedin won back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, it still seems as if the new Canuck captain has to apologize for his game. Vancouver writers are still determined to write that the aggression of their opponent “was a crucial element in the Bruins’ seven-game win in the Stanley Cup final,” as if it wasn’t the awful powerplay or Tim Thomas’ .967 save percentage in the series.

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“Admittedly, that’s an oversimplification,” suggests the writer. You think? It’s just like when an Edmonton commentator proclaimed that the Canucks kept drafting Danes and Swedes, and that somehow explained why they lost to a team in the finals to a team that had a Vancouver kid on the roster.

You’d hope that the insider hockey experts would do something more than feed off emotion, since their judgments about players do impact fan perception of particular players, and of the game itself. Sometimes you hope that these guys do more than look at a birth certificate when evaluating a hockey player’s ability to win in the post-season.

Daniel Sedin, after all, does have more Stanley Cup Finals goals than Keith’s teammate, Conn Smythe Winner and unquestioned team leader Jonathan Toews. Does that matter? No, but it’s something you don’t often hear because it’s a fact that doesn’t perfectly integrate with the bullshit, nativist arguments that are too often brandished when the discussion turns to European NHLers.

  • Jinx50

    I agree with your article 100%. I’ve found in the last couple of years that you find more unbiased reporting on blogs and posts that you read on-line. I used to listen to nothing but Vancouver sports radio, now I can only stand it for a few hours a day and that’s only when you get people who are hosting who don’t spend their whole show digging and scratching to find anything to bash our hometown team. There are honestly times when I turn on the radio and wonder whether I’ve tuned into Chicago or Bostons’ airwaves. Vancouver Canucks, there captain, their players, etc. get slammed for anything and everything they do or don’t do from media all over North America and the players are always made aware of it when there is a camera on them and a mike in their face, so it is impossible for them to ignore it even if they say they do. Then they come home and it’s sometimes worse here than anywhere else. Just where exactly are the players supposed to get the pats on the backs and the encouragement they deserve when they deserve it? For sh*ts sake it’s not like they’re the Maple Leafs or Columbus, then the constant critizism and nit picking would be deserved but this is ridiculous. So they haven’t won a cup yet, so does that mean they only get the positive media attention when that happens? Well guess what, there’s a more than 90% they won’t be doing it year after year after year, this isn’t the 70’s and 80’s. So how about some encouragement and acknowledgement for the captain and the team for all the years that they keep at least getting us there and giving us fans some exciting extra weeks of hockey in the meantime until that day finally comes. There are an awful lot of fan bases (and some with Canadian captains no less) who don’t even get that year after year. It’s time for us to show how much we appreciate them at least giving us that chance to hope until the time comes that they reach that ultimate goal.

  • I saw the Steve Rosenbloom artical that you quoted from and I have to say that I was so frustrated by it that I have had trouble formulating my reactions let alone articulating them. The Tribune headline on the artical was “Even Against a Sedin, That’s A Suspension Duncan”. Even against a Sedin. I am absolutely gobsmacked (to use a British expression) by the thought process behind that concept. Even against Jonathan Toews. Even against Steven Stamkos. Even against Sidney Crosby. The Sedins have produced wonderful, long, honest and constantly productive careers even in the face of such monumental ignorance as this. Our local press is as hard on the home team as any press in the sport but I cannot imagine even the most curmudgeonly of our hometown scribes, the irrepressibly negative Tony Gallagher, saying something like that. As I say, I am so disturbed by this line of thinking that I can’t even express my disapproval strongly enough. It shames the spirit of the game, the players and the media who comment on the sport that any individual, no matter how ill informed or ignorant, would actually verbalize such a concept.

  • “You’re kidding me,” Don Cherry once said of the player that the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Wendel Clark for back in 1994. “I hope somebody’s kidding me that you would trade Clark for Mats Sundin.”

    They just traded the captain that just helped lead them to back to back conference finals. I’m fairly certain most leaf fans felt the exact same way.

  • Toews has 15 goals in 46 playoff games (0.33 a game). Daniel has 23 in 90 games (0.26 a game). Both Dunc and Toews have more Stanley Cups. Hawks have plenty of Europena players. Stop trying to make up an arguement that doesn’t exist in Chicago.

  • Mantastic

    what a surprise, canadians like canadian players more than americian or europeans! as i’m sure americians like americian players more than any other, etc.

    when the olympics rolled into town, we weren’t cheering for any other team besides canada, so why wouldn’t we like canadian players more than others, in the NHL? how is this so far fetched of an idea?

    i know those of you caucasians, canadians have never felt like a minority where they have to out work others to gain the respect others but this isn’t something NEW! stop crying and suck it up sunshine

  • Mantastic

    I dont apologize for prefering Canadian hockey players over European players, in a very broad & general sense.

    Im not gonna pretend that it doesn’t bother me to see quality BC born players like Shea Weber, Jamie Benn & Milan Lucic passed up by the local club, only to go on to NHL stardom.

    Im not gonna hide my excitement about the prospect of Justin Schultz, a local kid ive read about on this site, joining the Canucks.

    I like Canadian players. So what. Even more, I like BC born players. So what. I still wouldn’t trade a Sedin, and ill still jump outta my seat and high 5 my buddies anytime Alex Edler decides to go end-to-end.

    Let me put it to you this way Cam – The only way I would wear a European players jersey (sweater) is if its Canucks. And the only way id wear a sweater from another team would be if it was a Canadian players name on the back – ala Martin St.Louis. (except truthfully i would never wear another teams sweater period.)

    Hank is still a boss. F*** Duncan Keith.

  • Mantastic

    I am Canadian. And the player I most admire in the league is Henrik Sedin.

    It drives me nuts how some commentators act like there is only one RIGHT way to play (implying the tough, Canadian way). I don’t know how many times
    I’ve heard talk that the Sedins don’t hit enough and aren’t aggressive enough, and therefore they are somehow deficient. Does Pavel Datsyuk hit? Is he aggressive?

    The twins are excellent players, and it’s about time that the old school guys drop the stereotypes and assumptions about playing in this league.

  • One of the greatest displays of courage I’ve ever seen in hockey was a stitched up Borje Salming coming back to play after being repeatedly run and bloodied by the Flyers. Even they stopped all the “chicken Swede” stuff after that and actually showed him some respect. Somehow I don’t see the Hawks or the Bruins ever doing that. So I guess things have actually gotten worse. Hockey is even more racist than it was in the high goon days of the 1970s. Pretty sad, but it only underlines the class of players like the Sedins.

  • Mantastic

    I agree with what you said regarding the old school mentality and how theres no place for it anymore. There are certainly canadians who are not tough or leaders playing in the nhl. That being said as a canucks fan you want to see cups come to your city. Did not happen with sundin, and has yet to happen with the other swede who is currently wearing the C. Toews has a cup ring. I am sure daniel would rather have the cup above his head than have the playoff scoring title…at least thats what any canadian kidswould want.

  • Mantastic

    @#14 adam

    It’s also yet to happen with any Canadian wearing the ‘C’.

    And, honestly, does anyone actually think that the Blackhawks won the Cup solely by virtue of having a Canadian captain? Last year neither team had a North American Captain and to get to the finals, they defeated teams with Canadian captains.

    Great article, Cam. And you’re right, Henrik shouldn’t have to apologize. But those who feed the BS narrative regarding European NHLers should.