The Deeper Meaning Behind the Canuck Riot

Canadians don’t like that "their" sport has been hijacked by globalization and international competition.

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Globalization is a painful transition for many people and on many levels—and it’s not always economic.

Witness the behavior of the Vancouver Canucks fans (and, perhaps, some malcontents more interested in making trouble than appreciating great hockey). When the Canucks, a truly talented team which had boasted the best record in the NHL during the season, lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins Wednesday night, the Canadian fans were something less than gracious. There were some boos, some throwing of items on the ice as the cup-awarding ceremony began. And afterward, hooligans rioted in the streets, turning over a car and setting it on fire.

This may sound not unlike the behavior we see from other trouble-makers during World Cup Soccer. But there is another element here, and it has to do with Canada’s very identity.

Those of us who have spent time in Canada (and Buffalo natives such as myself have frequently popped over the border to go to the beach or taste ice wine or buy decent beer) love the place. Canadians pride themselves on their politeness and the safe environment Canada provides. They tend not to start wars. They have great refugee programs. And they love hockey, more so than Americans rally around the supposed national pastime of baseball. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]

But what Canadians don’t like is that "their" sport has been hijacked by globalization and international competition. A sport once heavily dominated by Canadians with French names is now increasingly populated by Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians. The Stanley Cup victor Bruins’ captain is named Zdeno Chara—a name that would have been unfathomable a couple of decades ago in the NHL. And because Canada has chosen to tie its national identity to hockey in such an absolutist way, its inhabitants are refusing to share the sport. "It’s Canada’s Game," read the signs fans carried in Vancouver’s arena Wednesday night. That’s hardly welcoming—although better than the "go home" signs aimed at Boston fans.

Bostonians played into the country competition, yelling "USA! USA!" in the streets of Boston after their team had won the cup for the first time in nearly four decades. That wasn’t an unkind chant, but it turned the attention away from the Bruins and toward a culture war over who owns hockey.

Before the Vancouver Winter Olympics, a Canadian speaker informed—arguably, lectured—the world about Canada’s legendary politeness, how they are known for just saying "please" and "thank you." It’s not an exciting national identity, but it’s an honorable one. Let’s hope the Canadians don’t lose a sense of graciousness along with their purported ownership of hockey.

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