The President of the United States is about to get an earful on the Keystone XL pipeline from an unexpected source: the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.
Darryl Sutter – who is also the owner of a 3,000-acre ranch near Viking, Alta. – plans to weigh in on the pipeline debate when Barack Obama plays host to the reigning Stanley Cup champions on Tuesday.
"I'm gonna ask him about it – damn rights I am," said Mr. Sutter.
A parade of Canadians have made their way to Washington in recent weeks to win Mr. Obama's backing for the controversial pipeline, which would transport 800,000 barrels a day of oil-sands bitumen to the world's largest refining hub on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
But Mr. Sutter might just be the first to use the Stanley Cup as a means of voicing his opinion.
For the record, the Alberta-born Mr. Sutter is in favour of the pipeline.
"Absolutely," he said. "It's 20 feet underground. How can we not want to keep North America [energy self-sufficient]? Why does the border have to separate that? It doesn't make sense. For sure, I'm going to ask him."
Canadian governments are engaged in an all-out effort to secure approval for the pipeline. This month, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall visited U.S. lawmakers and industry leaders in Chicago, Houston and Washington.
And last week Rick George, the plainspoken former chief executive of Suncor Energy Inc., headlined an event organized by the Canadian consulate in New York, a lunch that drew energy investors, Canadian expats and a former governor of New York. Mr. George left no room for doubt on his views of the debate under way in the United States.
He acknowledged that the sector has credibility issues. "Obviously people don't trust politicians or bankers, but oil guys are right in that list," he said.
White House visits by sports teams have courted controversy before. Tim Thomas, the American-born goaltender, refused to attend with his Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins last year because of his political beliefs. It created internal friction on his team leading up to the playoffs, where the Bruins lost in the first round. Mr. Thomas took a year away from the game and was eventually traded to the New York Islanders.
Mr. Sutter vows that his attempt to chat up Mr. Obama will not act as a distraction for the Kings. He pointed out that he and Mr. Obama share some Chicago roots, noting that the President is "sort of" from the Windy City, as are his own children, who were born there during the years between 1979 and 1993 that Mr. Sutter spent playing and coaching in the Blackhawks organization.
He has high hopes for their meeting, however brief it may be. "I think it'll be awesome and I'm really looking forward to it."
With a report from Joanna Slater in New York