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Vancouver Canucks' Henrik Sedin, of Sweden, left, celebrates his goal with Daniel Sedin, of Sweden, during the third period of game 1 of NHL Western Conference final Stanley Cup playoff hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, May 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward (JONATHAN HAYWARD)
Vancouver Canucks' Henrik Sedin, of Sweden, left, celebrates his goal with Daniel Sedin, of Sweden, during the third period of game 1 of NHL Western Conference final Stanley Cup playoff hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, May 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward (JONATHAN HAYWARD)

Gary Mason

Can Canucks really be Canada's team? Add to ...

As the Vancouver Canucks skated on to the ice Wednesday for the start of Game 2 of the Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks, a national debate was breaking out around them.

Were they "Canada's team" in these playoffs or not?

No less than The New York Times weighed in on the matter recently, concluding the only Canadian NHL team left standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs did not enjoy the unwavering support of those living elsewhere in the country.

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Like this is a big surprise.

There are lots of reasons why people living in Edmonton or Ottawa or Toronto might be reluctant to adopt the Canucks as their playoff team. They begin with spite and jealously.

The NHL teams in those cities are horrible. Their fans would love to have a squad that won the Presidents' Trophy, has back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners on it, and is the prohibitive favourite to win the Stanley Cup.

But they don't. So it's all about schadenfreude. They'd rather see the Tampa Bay Lightning win another Cup than Vancouver claim its first.

(That is not to say that many in Vancouver wouldn't be feeling exactly the same way were it the Toronto Maple Leafs in the situation in which the Canucks currently find themselves. Vancouverites might be inclined to cut the rest of the NHL teams in Canada some slack.)

But the national antipathy towards the Canucks, at least to the degree it's perceived to exist at the moment, could be derived from more than just pure team envy.

The Canucks play when most of the country is fast asleep, so it's difficult for anyone in St. John's or Strathroy, Ont., to make a connection with them. Nor is Vancouver led by a charismatic Canadian such as Sidney Crosby or Jarome Iginla but instead by humble twins from Sweden who play a soft, finesse, un-Canadian brand of hockey.

And then there is the city itself, of course.

If people in the rest of the country are tired of hearing how beautiful Vancouver is, how livable it is, how it's the best place on Earth, who can blame them? Many of us living here are exhausted of it and can only imagine how nauseating it must be for someone living in a more snow-bound, mountain-and-ocean-less part of the country.

The fact is, as cities go, many Canadians view Vancouver as effete, a metropolis made up of snotty, latte swilling, cargo-shorts wearing, too-cool-for-school yuppies for whom pleasure and real estate remain their only abiding concerns.

Plus, Vancouver just put on the Olympics, you can hear some say. Why should it get to host a Stanley Cup parade as well? (Answer: Because Montreal and Calgary also got to after they staged the Olympics.)

Any time a Canadian team makes the late stages of the NHL playoffs the country is reminded of the fact it's been 18 years since a team north of the border won hockey's greatest prize. But I'm not sure Canadians have ever been depressed over this growing vacuum.

There are often more Canadian-born players on the U.S.-based teams a Canadian-based club faces anyway. It's been noted San Jose has more Canadian-born players on its roster than the Canucks, including 2010 Olympic gold medalists Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley; Vancouver has only one Canadian Olympian (goaltender Roberto Luongo).

For now, the disdain towards Vancouver and its hockey team we're hearing about is mostly anecdotal; a storyline created out of the musings of radio talk show hosts, writers from Finland, and those who get off posting insulting comments on Internet chat sites - far from a scientific study or in-depth poll.

We do know that more than 3.5 million Canadians tuned in to watch Game 1 of this series and 60 per cent of them were from outside British Columbia. And I refuse to believe they were all cheering against Vancouver.

Should the Canucks survive this round and move on to the Stanley Cup final, TV viewership numbers are sure to be even higher. And I'm betting that should the team end its 40-year Cup drought, there will be more than a few Canadians pleased that hockey's cherished silver chalice is back home.

Even if that is Vancouver.

 

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