Look at the picture above. Can you tell me who that is?
That's Montreal Canadiens legend Patrick Roy, hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup over his head in celebration of a Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. In Montreal. On home ice. It's a dream victory and, frankly, a dream, period, for anyone who has ever laced up a pair of skates and stepped onto the ice. To be able to raise that hallowed trophy over your head in front of a packed stadium of screaming fans as the focused energy of an entire city comes together in one beautiful, perfect moment of joy, triumph and celebration. Every Canadian has had that dream; man, woman and child. It's one of the most unifying things of our country and our culture. Hockey is in our veins and, I dare to say, we all firmly believe that the proper home of that gleaming silver masterpiece is right here, up north in Canada.
Sadly for us all, the last time the Cup came home was when that picture was taken: June of 1993. For our less astute readers, that is 23 years, 11 months and 6 days ago. Almost 24 years since a Canadian team has won the cup. Very nearly a quarter of a century since the country that claims to command ownership of the game has managed to defend the crown and walk the walk. Though we've come close a few times in the last decade, it's been five years now since we had a Canadian team in the playoff finals, when the Canucks lost to the Bruins in Game 7. It was a harrowing series, and one that I profited off of.
I'd made a bet against a friend - a Vancouver fan - that I would buy him a pint for every Canuck goal while he, alternatively, would buy for me whenever the Bruins potted one. The game was a Bruins shutout, 4-0. I left that bar quite happy and not just a little tipsy, let's put it that way. Of course, everyone will remember the infamous Vancouver riots that happened in the wake of that loss.
Pictured: the Sedin's attempting to put some kind of curse on the celebrating Bruins.
At the time, as I said, I was happy that Boston won. I grew up in a house that equally idolized the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, and therefore with the Buds out, Boston was my go-to team to support. It didn't matter to me at the time that Vancouver was a Canadian team facing off against an American one, all that mattered to me was that I got to throw the loss in a friends' face for the next year. And free pints. That was pretty damn important too. But that has changed in the half-decade since that series. I don't feel the same way as I did before. Never mind that a good chunk of the Bruins roster that year were Canadian-born. Never mind that they're OG Original Six and, as such, an easily defendable choice. None of that really matters when I looked back on it. I'd rooted against Canada. I'd betrayed my country. And I'd profited off of it. I was, for all intents and purposes, a turncoat - a traitor - and worst of all, I'd never even considered what I was doing.
For this reason, and for the fact that we're rapidly closing in on a quarter century without the Stanley Cup coming home to Canada, this year I want to make a plea to all my fellow Canadians to get behind the solitary team we have left: the Ottawa Senators. Regardless of your personal feelings about the team, and believe me, fans of any other Canadian team - hell, citizens of any other Canadian city - have many reasons to gripe with our nations capital.
Leafs fans might not like them for a number of reasons: Dion Phaneuf plays there now, we all know Toronto is the REAL capital of Canada, etc. Little things like that!
Calgary fans might be a little sour towards Ottawa for more political reasons, as the tensions between the federal government and Alberta have come to a head frequently in the last few years.
"You want me to root for WHO?" - Calgary Flames Mikael Backlund
Montreal fans might be inclined to anger because...well they're from Montreal, that's just kind of their thing over there!
These perceived wrongs run deep and can make us all a little unwilling to root for the Sens to bring it home this year.
Chris Vandenbreekel is a very good friend of mine. We went to school together, so I can confidently say that a more died-in-the-wool Calgary Flames fan is a rare thing to find. I asked him his thoughts on the situation - Ottawa isn't necessarily a traditional rival of the Flames, but with Calgary's defeat to Anaheim in the first round still a raw wound I was curious to hear his thoughts. He surprised me in echoing what I had been thinking.
"As a Canadian hockey fan it is your duty to cheer for a Cup to come north of the border," Vandenbreekel believes. "I'm also glad it's [the Senators] and not the Oilers. I'd have a much harder time swallowing my pride in that case."
But swallow said pride we must, in this case particularly.
Another friend, Nathan Kanter, is a Leafs fan as well as the voice of the Battleford North Stars SJHL hockey team in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. So he's currently twice vexed; a Leafs fan AND in close proximity to three western Canadian teams, the Flames, the Jets and the Oilers. Despite all this, he's also pulling for Ottawa in the coming series and beyond.
"It's been almost 25 years since a Canadian team won the Cup. Are you kidding me? Way too long, considering it's OUR game," Kanter said. "Seeing as it's the nations capital, it would also be pretty fitting."
The more I think about this the more I want Anaheim to pull through to the finals over Nashville and face the Senators. Anaheim has spilled Canadian blood twice in these playoffs alone and as such deserve to be punished as fits that crime. More and more though, I don't care who takes the Western Conference finals as long as Ottawa takes the East and then steamrolls whoever they face; Nashville or Anaheim. I mean, let's be real here, neither of those places EVER experiences natural ice. They have to make their damn ice if they want to play hockey.
Want to confuse an Anaheim fan? Ask them what this is!
Not us. Not here in Canada. Here we have ice in our veins and special words for winter headgear that people make fun of us for! Well to hell with anyone who doesn't know what a toque is and to hell with the Anaheim Ducks and the Nashville Predators!
The Leafs are out. The Canadiens too. The Oilers and the Flames as well, both lost to those bread-eating, squawking fowl from California. The Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks didn't even make it this year. That leaves us - as Canadians - with one last hope.
The Ottawa Senators.
If it's making you shudder to say it, practice! Say it again and again and again until it gets into your head and into your heart and into your damn soul. Hockey is our game. Hockey is Canada and Canada is hockey. It has been a part of our nation for over a century and has spawned some of the bitterest rivalries and stirring moments in the history of this magnificent nation. It's time we put away the former and embraced the latter. It's time to show that we can come together as one behind a hockey team more often than just once every four years.
Like this glorious display of almost every single human emotion imaginable, including Goalie!
It's time to prove that we, as a nation, stand together and say that no American team will find any support north of the duty-free.
Go back to Tennessee. Go back to California. Go back to the beach.
The ice is ours.