Home > Hockey > The Cup Runneth Over, Just not in Canada…

The Cup Runneth Over, Just not in Canada…

I am a hockey agnostic.  This isn’t really a preferable situation – sports are always better when you have an invested emotional interest – but it’s just the way things have developed for me over the years.  When I was a kid, I cheered for Mario Lemieux and his Pittsburgh Penguins.  This was probably my first mistake, although you can hardly blame a child for the whimsy that draws him to one team or another.  The Penguins of the early 90s were magical and cheering for them was easy.  They were the best, and Super Mario was, well, Super.  But, of course, he wasn’t invincible and when his back gave way, so ebbed my fascination with the Pens.

For a time I cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because that had been the team of my father’s youth.  That seemed like a noble reason and it might have worked, had I grown up watching the Leafs every Saturday night while perched on his knee, but I didn’t.  So, while I wanted to cheer for the Leafs, wanted to feel their misery after 43 years of miserable heartbreak and ineptitude, I couldn’t.  That pain, anguish, and yearning remained tangible but just out of my reach.

Ultimately I fell into cheering for six teams, or rather, I began cheering for the mere hope that one of six franchises (soon to be seven!) build a team good enough to bring the Stanely Cup back to the country from which it came.  It’s not so much to hope for is it?  For a Canadian team – ANY Canadian team – to win the Cup?  It seems like a reasonable hope, like something worth cheering for.

Unfortunately, it is proving to be a challenging hope to fulfill.  Eighteen long years and 17 NHL seasons (ahem- and one lockout) have passed us by since Patrick Roy and his Montreal Canadiens drank from the Cup.  That’s a lot of Champagne spilled over the years, and sure it’s generally overrated Champagne, but shouldn’t some of it have been spilt in Canada, by a Canadian franchise?

And while 18 years might not seem like such a long time to Cubs fans, it is in a normal sporting sense, an eternity.  Almost two decades have passed without a Cup, do you remember what the world was like two decades ago?

  • The Toronto Blue Jays were the best team in baseball… sigh.
  • OJ Simpson was a beloved former football player.
  • Roseanne constituted reality TV
  • The internet wasn’t yet for porn.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates only had one losing season.
  • Apartheid ruled in South Africa.
  • The WWE still got donations from people hoping to save the environment.
  • We listened to Grunge and wore flannel shirts in 90 degree heat.
  • Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the biggest movie stars in the world, instead of a creepy cult promoter and a creepy former Governor.
  • Nobody’d “Yada Yada’d” Sex yet.
  • Cigars were just for smoking.
  • The Simpsons were still on television… wait, what?
  • George Lucas was still a genius.
  • The US hadn’t elected the Junior Bush… twice.
  • Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or not.
  • Steroids were just for body builders and East German track stars.
  • The Boston Red Sox were lovable losers, not insufferable, pink hat wearing winners.
  • We’d never seen Britney Spear’s shaved… uhmmm… head.
  • Brett Farve hadn’t yet started retiring and un-retiring 14 times an offseason.
  • Meadow Soprano was still trying to park that car.
  • The inventor of Facebook was nine years old.
  • “Swine” and “Flu” were words that would never be used together.
  • Tiger Woods just went to Perkins for the pancakes.
  • People still read newspapers, rented movies, and watched TV in real time.
  • The Jersey Shore was just a place.
  • Nobody texted, or sexted, or tweeted, and if they poked it was in the privacy of their own home.
  • And, while politicians were still slimy, at least we didn’t have to read about them sending pictures of their “weiners” to women.
I mean, I don’t want to wax nostalgic, but doesn’t that seem like a better time?  At least the Jays were champs, that alone seems better…
The winless streak began, as all streaks do, without anyone noticing.  New York defeated Vancouver in seven games in 1994 in a thrilling series that had all the hallmarks of something we’d see again.  Little did we know that we were about to enter the New Jersey, Colorado, and Detroit reign of trapping terror… Those three franchises would hog the cup for the better part of a decade, winning eight of the next nine titles, by grinding out victories with defense and the grace of a three legged moose.  During that nine year stretch, not a single Canadian team sniffed the Finals.  This should have been a sign to us that something was amiss, but we had bigger concerns, like the lack of Olympic Gold and whether the Expos would stay in Montreal (ok, nobody cared about that, but they should have…).
In 2004, we had our first Cup challenger in a decade and worse, they were playing a team who came from a land beyond hockey’s natural borders, a land devoid of ice, a team from (gulp) Florida.  This seemed to bring home the notion that the Cup had been vacant for far too long, yet while the Flames played valiantly, they were overachieving upstarts.  They had battled out of the West’s sixth seed, but in the final Tampa Bay, with their trio of young Canadian stars (Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Brad Richards), were the favourites and while the series went seven, the Cup did not come home.
After the lockout another upstart Alberta team made a startling run… the Oilers, that last great Canadian franchise, barely squeaked into the playoffs, but upset a Detroit team that had won 17 more games than them in the regular season.  The Oilers then toppled a pair of undeserving California teams, before meeting another sunbelt team in the finals.  Once more, they had just enough to take the finals to seven games, but not quite enough to pop the champagne.  The Cup went to Carolina.
Those Alberta teams played their hearts out and came up just shy, but they were both underdogs.  We were proud of what they’d accomplished and they allowed us to hold a candle to the possibility that another Canadian team might fight, grapple, claw their way back and actually take that final step, but… the streak now was indisputable.  When Ottawa lost in five games the following year to those Mighty Ducks, who amongst us was surprised?
And yet, this year seemed different.  This year we didn’t have an upstart fighting for the Cup, we had the best team in hockey.  A team that was deep, a team that had won 54 of their 82 games.  A team that had home ice.  It all seemed so tangible, so real.  It was there for them to grasp, for us to grasp.  A country once again rallied around them – not everyone in the country, after all some rivalries run too deep, but most of the country.
They won the first game in spectacular fashion and they won the second just as sublimely.  Chants of LOOOOOO rained down as the mercurial goaltender allowed a single goal in 120 minutes of hockey.  It was heady times, the Vancouver Canucks were two wins from the Cup, Canada was two wins from the Cup.  Do you remember those days?  June 4th was only 12 days ago, but doesn’t it seem like 18 years?  So much happened between then and now.
So many goals were scored, so many punches taken.  As it turned out, the best team in hockey wasn’t the Canucks after all.  It was a team from Boston.  Canuck homers will make excuses.  They will say that the injuries to Dan Hamhuis and Mason Raymond were too great to overcome, but of course that logic is like failing to see the forrest for the trees. Winning the Cup is a war of attrition and overcoming injuries (like say to Nathan Horton or Marc Savard) is as much a part of being a winning team as converting on the power play, or effectively pinching the outlet pass.
Over the course of these seven games, the team from Boston just wanted it more, well that and they had the better goaltender.  It really is just that simple.  Grit, desire, and a goalie who doesn’t allow weak goals in bunches.  Sadly, for 18 years, we have not had that combination come together with enough talent to bring home the Cup.  It seems possible, it seems reasonable, but alas it remains something just out of our reach.
So what are we left with?  Rioting in the streets, another parade for Boston, and that obnoxious refrain, “there’s always next year.”
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