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—–Original Message—– From: Ian Andrew Bell [mailto:me [at] ianbell [dot] com] Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2001 11:49 AM To: letters [at] denverpost [dot] com Cc: wpaige [at] denverpost [dot] com; WoodyPaige [at] aol [dot] com; newsroom [at] denverpost [dot] com; heltzell [at] denverpost [dot] com; rrisch [at] denverpost [dot] com; aberggren [at] denverpost [dot] com; bboyle [at] denverpost [dot] com Subject: It’s Canada’s Game

I just read, my eyes filled with incredulity, the ignorance spewed by the Denver Post’s Woody Paige on April 12, 2001 in an article (sic) titled “Canada Can’t Cancel The Avs This Postseason”. As a Canadian, I found its content to be virulently offensive. It is also exemplary of everything that’s wrong with the attitude of some Americans (and unlike Mr. Paige I will resist the temptation to generalize by saying ALL Americans) toward the world that lies outside their borders.

Here is my response to Mr. Paige’s article:

Dear Woody;

It would behoove you to know, sir, that the nation upon which you urinated in your rambling and pointless column of April 12, 2001 is in fact the birthplace of the game of hockey which you Coloradans have so recently learned to worship. You see, the “National” in National Hockey League stands for Canada. And long before American money plucked a financially-strapped but talented young team from Quebec City minutes before their Stanley Cup Victory, a rich tradition of sportsmanship and grace began in the New World, in Canada.

You can be forgiven for your seeming inability to display such sportsmanship, since obviously the sport of hockey and its heritage are all new to you. I assume that adding another sport to your career-long diet of Football, Baseball, and Professional Wrestling has not afforded you the opportunity to perform in-depth analysis and research as to this seemingly new-fangled sport’s traditions.

Anyway, on to my lesson. Lord Stanley, sent to Canada in the 1880s by the Queen of England (can you name which one?) as Canada’s Governor General, repeataedly observed groups of teenage boys playing a strange sport called “hockey” along Ottawa’s frozen Rideau Canal. The word comes from the French word “hocquet” which means “bent stick” — Canada has always embraced both French and English cultures equally.

A few months later, he purchased a tin cup for 10 guineas on London’s Carnaby Street. He wanted to create a tournament and national championship with the aim of unifying a nation that was then fractured by distance and dissimilar interests. The tournament was first held in Canada in 1893 and was won, ironically, by the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association — the seeds of what would eventually become “Les Habitants”, or the Montreal Canadiens.

In 1917, after World War I, the amateur teams of Canada merged to create the “original five” teams of the National Hockey League — the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs, and the Toronto Arenas — flying under the banner of the Stanley Cup. The cup, though property of the NHL, was up for grabs by the top teams of other leagues, like the PCL.

Even in those days, Canadian teams competed for players with the deep pockets of American investors. As Amateur Athletics began to congeal around this new championship race, companies around the Eastern US began sponsoring their own teams in a loosely assembled corporate hockey league. Robber barons and other industrialists came to bet thousands of dollars on the outcome of games, and things started heating up.

Whether it was for corporate pride, personal ego, or monetary gain these teams made up of each company’s “employees” began importing seasoned, skilled Canadian hockey players to the US for exhorbitant amounts of money to secure victory. In a few short decades since its inception, Canada had become a hockey factory of sorts, turning out prodigies like Cyclone Taylor, Joe Malone, Cy Denneny, and others.

Eventually, the many teams and leagues folded under the economic pressure by growing salaries and the league converged around a mixture of Canadian and American teams from six cities, spawning the misnomer “original six”.

It was simple economics that drew many of these talents South of the border, beginning an oft-repeated tradition in hockey, which continues today. These days, Canada produces greater than 60% of the players in the NHL — an impressive feat for a country with fewer than 28 million people. Of the five Avalanche Superstars you mention in your article — Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy — all but one are Canadian.

Your revered (until he loses a few games) Avs coach, Bob Hartley, is Canadian. Marc Crawford, your former coach and present adversary, is also Canadian. In fact, reviewing the Stanley Cup victors of the last five years, each winning team has greatly exceeded the statistical average percentage of Canadians in the league on a per team basis. Clearly this is a winning formula and clearly American sports entrepeneurs have taken notice.

With enterprise and American money, the league has multiplied to cover such unlikely locales for ice hockey as Tampa Bay, San Jose, and Colorado. Through it all, the National Hockey League has retained its original traditions — as each team advances to the next round of the playoffs, for example, they go with the handshakes and blessings of those whom they defeated. These subtle gestures of sportsmanship harken back to the league’s amateur origins.

But what is it that makes Canadian players and the Canadian game so successful? Perhaps it is the hard work, dedication, and fortitude of the players coming out of our system. Perhaps it is education programmes, corporate funding, or community support that makes it possible. In all cases, though, these support systems pale by comparison to the influence of a strong and ingrained tradition of athletic excellence and sportsmanship.

Last night I watched with amazement as Barry Bonds became the 17th player to hit 500 home runs during his career — an impressive, but clearly not exceptional feat. The entire game ceased for 20 minutes to accomodate a special ceremony and photo op that had obviously been planned and rehearsed with every detail.

By contrast, when Wayne Gretzky (a Canadian) leafed his 802nd goal past a stunned netminder to surpass Gordie Howe’s career scoring record — a record which will likely stand forever at 894 — he simply raised a hand in modest celebration before the ovations of the crowd, returned to the players’ bench, and awaited his next shift.

Perhaps in this dichotomy you will see that our Canadian tradition of subtlety, humility, and above all respect (for the game, its players, and for its fans) embody the word “sportsmanship”. You will see that the game of hockey retains many such traditions that have been lost in other sports, to their detriment. You will see that, win or lose, all participants can stand proud and be counted among the elite few priviledged to play the world’s fastest sport.

You would do well to pay homage to this tradition rather than treading all over it with your shoddilly-written article (satire or not). As outright ignorance and lack of respect such as yours seeps into the game along with your money, you jeopardize the dignity and sanctity of the very sport itself. You can be forgiven, as an obvious newcomer, for not understanding — but you cannot for the tone in which you express your sentiments.

Today, as throughout the league’s history, a victory for any NHL team remains a victory for all Canadians. It is our game, our tradition, our players, and our National symbol. To date, the contributions Americans have made to the game are limited to your money, and the hackneyed opinions of a few small town columnists with a penchant for revisionist history.

Thanks anyway,

-Ian.

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