“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.