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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks over a Vancouver Canucks Jersey from Sport Chek in Richmond, British Columbia April 17, 2011. The jersey is for his son, Ben, who turns 15 this week. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (Ben Nelms/REUTERS/)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks over a Vancouver Canucks Jersey from Sport Chek in Richmond, British Columbia April 17, 2011. The jersey is for his son, Ben, who turns 15 this week. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (Ben Nelms/REUTERS/)

Roy MacGregor

Are we really cheering for the Canadian team? Add to ...

It's hard to know what to make of anthems here.

It might lack the sound-barrier explosiveness of the old Chicago Stadium, but the United Center remains the loudest place in hockey to hear The Star-Spangled Banner, particularly when the roars drown out the singer's finale verse.

Under the circumstances, though, perhaps they should have skipped both national anthems Sunday night and simply gone with Stompin' Tom Connors' The Good Old Hockey Game, the harmless ditty that carried the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks out onto the ice for their pregame warmups.

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One of the great curiosities of the two playoff series most captivating Canadians - the only two series Canadian cities, Vancouver and Montreal are involved in - is that the passports seem wildly out of whack.

The Blackhawks have 14 Canadians on their 24-player playoff roster but only four Americans. The captain (Jonathan Toews) is Canadian, the top defenceman (Duncan Keith) is Canadian, and both goaltenders (Corey Crawford and Marty Turco) are Canadian.

The Vancouver Canucks, on the other hand, have fewer Canadians, 12, on their playoff roster. The captain (Henrik Sedin) is a Swede, the top scorer is a Swede (Daniel Sedin) and the team's most valuable skater is an American (Ryan Kessler). Ace goaltender Roberto Luongo (Montreal) might be considered a small mercy, under the circumstances.

Over in the other series with "Canadian" content, the matter is even more unbalanced. The Boston Bruins boast players from British Columbia to Newfoundland. A remarkable 13 of the team's 14 forwards are Canadian, along with four of the team's eight defencemen. That's 17 of 22 skaters who might have a red maple leaf tattooed on their butts. Goaltender Tim Thomas (Flint, Mich.) would be considered Boston's small mercy.

In Montreal, where the Canadiens have returned with a 2-0 lead in their series with Boston, the captain (Brian Gionta), the top-paid player (Scott Gomez) and the top defenceman (Hal Gill) are all Americans. In fact, less than half the players on the Montreal playoff roster, 12 out of 26 listed, are Canadian, though it is important to note that the Canadians do include splendid playoff performer Mike Cammalleri (Richmond Hill, Ont.), amazing rookie P.K. Subban and stellar goaltender Carey Price (Anahim Lake, B.C.).

And yet, despite these curiosities, it is still true that Canadians are cheering more for their Canadian teams than any of the other 14 teams entering Round 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are many reasons for this. One is regional and municipal. Boston politico Tip O'Neill might have said, "All politics is local," but politics holds nothing on sports when it comes to local passion.

Another would be the dearth of Stanley Cups since the Canadiens somewhat unexpectedly won "Canada's" last in 1993. Since then, the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators have reached the final without closing the deal, though Vancouver (1994), Calgary (2004) and Edmonton (2006) all took the final series to seven games.

But that cannot explain it all.

There is the element of surprise here, at least with the Canadiens being up 2-0 on the team that was widely said to be the best team in the Eastern Conference. There is, too, the element of revenge, Vancouver finally figuring out their playoff nemesis, the Blackhawks, and also with a 2-0 lead heading into Sunday night's Game 3 in Chicago. Chicago is also the defending Stanley Cup champion.

There is the pleasure of the game itself, the hockey being played by both Montreal and Vancouver a delight to watch in a spring that follows one of the game's most difficult and tortured winters.

To watch little Brian Gionta play with such heart, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo make such astonishing saves and the Sedins work their magic is a welcome reminder that there is, and always has been, more to this game than the ringing of heads and the wringing of hands.

Nothing is guaranteed in sport. A 2-0 series lead can be halved, can be lost, can even be reversed by bounces, bad luck and bad play. But for the time being it is enough - especially after a year that saw such moments as Sidney Crosby's season-ending concussion, Max Pacioretty's head spring off a metal stanchion, Mario Lemieux say he might walk away from the "travesty" hockey had become, and virtually anything at all to do with Matt Cooke.

There is, today, talk of the NHL returning to Winnipeg and perhaps to Quebec City - and even if these teams arrive with American captains and Swedish stars, they will be embraced as family.

No matter that the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens are not all Canadian - not even as Canadian as their American opponents - the important thing is that Canadians everywhere finally have something to cheer for in their national game.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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