Battle of Alberta? Hell Yeah! Canada’s Team? Heck, No!
Darkest timeline: Would Edmontonians ever be emotionally ready to cheer for the Flames?
By Steven Sandor | May 18, 2022
“To have the chance to go to the Conference Final and have the chance to be Canada’s team, that’s an opportunity that both sides are eager to have.”
Those words came from Zach Hyman, speaking to reporters ahead of The Battle of Alberta, which begins tonight at the Saddledome, also known as the arena Calgary can’t find a way to replace.
Hyman is referring to what has become the spring tradition of this country collectively throwing its support behind the final Canadian playoff survivor. There are two Canadian team left right now — Oilers and Flames. Soon, there will be only one.
No Canadian based team has won the Stanley Cup since players wore handlebar moustaches and held straight sticks. For the country in which the Cup was born, it’s a national insult. The last time a Canadian team won a Cup, Dandy LaRue shocked the hockey world by leaving the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Renfrew Creamery Kings, taking the princely free-agent bounty of $10 a week and unlimited use of the owner’s favourite horse.
(OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The last time a Canadian team won a Cup was 1993; pictures of the Oilers carrying the mug in the 1980s, while wearing way-too-tight beige pants and open-collared pastel shirts, are starting to feel a bit like how Leafs fans see 1967.)
But, let’s venture into The Darkest Timeline. The victor of this Western Conference Semifinal series will be the only Canadian team left standing (whoops, skating) in the NHL playoffs. But, shudder to think, what if it’s… the Flames?
(Well, there’s actually a good chance it will be the Flames, after all, Calgary had a better regular-season record and has home-ice advantage in the series.)
Could you do it, Oilers fans? Could you back the Flames? Would you be able to call the guys with the flaming red Cs on their jerseys … Canada’s team? Or would you have to hide in a place where no one talks about hockey, like the United States?
Think about it. The playoffs are on CBC, and there’s the Flames, standing in an American arena, as someone absolutely butchers “O Canada.” You see the Flames stars: goalie Jacob Markstrom (a Swede) and forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk (both Americans) and think, “wow, that’s Canada’s team, all right.”
What if the Flames actually did the unthinkable? What if they won it all? What if there was a parade in downtown Calgary? Would you be able to find it within yourself to be happy for your fellow Canadians? Would you buy into the “Canada’s team” mentality?
If it was a choice between Calgary not winning the Cup this year, but you having to make a terrible deal with the devil that the Canadian drought would continue till at least 2050, would you take it?
Let’s quote Khan Noonien Singh, (actually, it’s Herman Melville, from Moby Dick, but this quote became way more widely known thanks to Star Trek): “to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
That’s what makes sport so special. They allow us to get outside of our social construct. How many times in your life do you have to pretend to be happy for someone, or congratulate someone about achieving something you really don’t care about? But, in sport, if the side you support fails, you hope for others to fail. You can always let your true colours, your irrational beliefs and insecurities, fly. And that’s what will truly unite us. — not some wishy washy “let’s support Canada’s team” thing. It’s why ever non-Leaf fan celebrates on Leaf elimination day. It’s why watching the Canadiens finish in dead last makes many of us chuckle. (Ottawa and Winnipeg, sorry, no one hates you — and, Canucks fans, we’ve all accepted the idea that if your team ever wins the Cup, it’s a more reliable indicator of the apocalypse than horsemen dashing across the sky).
So, if Gaudreau and Tkachuk are triumphant over Draisaitl and McDavid, we should all be emotionally ready. As a sports fan, except maybe one of the power European soccer sides, you are always emotionally ready for disappointment, for failure. And this Flames team is really good. The Oilers are saying over and over that they’re the underdogs in this Battle of Alberta. And, if the Oilers won, would you want Calgary Flames jumping on the bandwagon?
Remember this — no matter if it’s Edmonton or Calgary that wins this series, they’ll be bumped off the top of evening national sportscasts if the Leafs sign a fourth liner or Auston Matthews does something new with his hair. And that should tell you all you need to know about the myth of “Canada’s team.”