It was the morning before Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien raised the Stanley Cup triumphantly over his head, that big Humpty Dumpty face of his cracking into the biggest grin of spring.
"I'm a Canadian," he said. "I know what Canadian cities are all about."
In a way he does. In other ways, he does not.
Julien knew, as everyone did, that the Vancouver Canucks had the opportunity that night to win their first ever Stanley Cup, rather sweetly on the team's 40th anniversary, but he also know, as most everyone did, that Boston was just as anxious, not having won in the 39 years that had passed since Bobby Orr scored the Cup-winning goal against the New York Rangers.
"When you get used to winning," Julien said, "you want more." Boston fans, he added, "want it just as bad as the Vancouver fans do."
He was talking cities, but there is a larger story here that goes beyond city limits and far into the very country itself where Vancouver's 40-year drought, hard as it is to swallow the day after, pales compared to the 18 years and counting that is the Canadian reality in Stanley Cup play.
No Canadian team has won the national game's highest award since goaltender Patrick Roy almost single-handedly brought it back to Montreal in 1993. The Canucks have twice now reached Game 7 of the final without success. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames did it once each - four teams coming one win short of bringing "home" the Cup that was given to Canadians.
Devoted hockey fans are not fools. They know there are often as many, or more, Canadians on American-based winning teams as there are on the Canadian cities that challenge. On the rosters that began these playoffs, the Canucks had a dozen players with Canadian birth certificates; Boston had 17.
And yet, those many Canadian fans - so many of them casual, who take up watching only when the playoffs are on - took no solace from the fact that the Boston line that destroyed Vancouver's hopes were all Canadian: 23-year-old Brad Marchand of Halifax, 25-year-old Patrice Bergeron from L'Ancienne-Lorette, Que., and 43-year-old Mark Recchi of Kamloops. It would be hard to imagine a more representative Canadian line in all of hockey.
For the past few weeks, a debate has raged in the country about whether the Vancouver Canucks were going to become Canada's team. No U.S.-based team, however, could possibly have such an effect on this debate as did the Boston Bruins, an Original Six team that has always enjoyed strong support in Canada's Atlantic region, where the long-standing sports links grew out of the historical shipping links.
If a Canada's team were truly possible in hockey, it would likely happen to the Vancouver Canucks more easily than any other current Canadian NHL team. Toronto and Montreal would be reluctant to cheer for each other; Edmonton and Calgary would find it impossible. Few who pay taxes could root for a team with Ottawa in its name.
Vancouver simply does not have the natural enemies those other cities have. Nor is it part of any long-time provincial or regional rivalry. Though millions of Canadians might be disgusted today with the boorish display of the hockey rioters, fans of convenience at best, many more millions of Canadians warmly embraced this lovely city barely a year ago when the greatest Olympics in Canadian history were held in Vancouver and Whistler.
Far more significantly than whether or not Canadian fans wore blue (Canucks) or yellow (Bruins) was the thought that this series was actually far more about Canada's Cup than Canada's team.
Canadians take such enormous pride in their national game - novelist Morley Callaghan called hockey "our own national drama" - that it has grated seeing the Stanley Cup won where it rarely, if ever, snows (Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina).
The notion of one day bringing the Cup home to Canada has, in its own way, become a cause, perhaps not quite in the realm of Egypt getting the Rosetta Stone back from Britain, or Australian and Canadian aboriginals demanding their treasured artifacts be returned by the museums that hold them, but a cause all the same.
The difference is that this one will not be won in the courts, or even in the court of public opinion, but will have to be won where all Stanley Cups have been taken: on the ice, best of seven, last team still standing.
For millions of Canadians, hockey is itself a religion. To watch the Stanley Cup - bequeathed to Canadians, intended for amateur teams - become largely the property of U.S. teams is annoying, and it is nothing short of insulting to have to watch these long playoffs as the most revered trophy in the national game becomes an advertising prop for an American beer, Budweiser.
The equivalent in Canada, if hockey is indeed a religion, would be for Molsons to show its beer being served in a chalice.
Which, come to think of it, might be just the thing to do if Canadian hockey prayers are ever answered.Report Typo/Error