Thorny US-Canada relations freeze once again as the icemen cometh

The US-Canada dynamic is an enjoyable experience for a bystander, a comically fraught relationship with both sides playing up to their respective national caricatures.

Thorny US-Canada relations freeze once again as the icemen cometh

It’s especially interesting to observe from an Irish point of view given our own complex history with our nearest, largest neighbour.

Of course there isn’t quite the same legacy of political upheaval out of which you’d be able to mine a sufficiently bitter sporting rivalry but there remains an adequate level of tension and suspicion to keep the whole thing ticking along.

Americans either embrace their own superiority with genuine piety or with ironic acceptance. When it comes to Canada, Americans will never shy away from a chance to offer a barbed putdown or a feigned expression of frustration or impatience.

It’s an open secret that Canada enjoys the more rounded society, working hard to ensure a better economy and less hardship overall. But there downsides to being so bloody perfect.

A solid record of creating the circumstances in which more people can live happier lives is not exactly the American way and Canadians are often reminded of that.

So the United States trundles as the class bully of the Americas, entitled, dominant, grumpy and greedy for more while Canada just shrugs and tries to make it through another winter.

Ice Hockey should be the one way of life where the lower 48 states are put in the ha’penny place. Bragging rights should all flow one way, the bigger nation should have the lesser claim on greatness.

But wouldn’t you know it, Canada can’t even catch a break with the sport it invented. The cruel joke Canadians are subjected to - watching most of the players and the plaudits heading south - has been going too far for over two decades. It’s been 22 years since the Canadian Stanley Cup has travelled north of the border and - even though their presence in the play-offs is the most significant it has been since 2004 - the chances of the famine ending are not high.

There are five Canadian teams in the 16-team knockout format which began last week and the insult poured in on the perennial pain was that four of them will be involved in series against each other while the fifth collided with a Stanley Cup favourite.

Two will certainly fall at the first hurdle and in all likelihood, one of the overall tips for glory, the Anaheim Ducks, will dispense with Winnipeg tonight.

Realistically only one of the five will ultimately threaten the favourites: the Montreal Canadiens. They were the only non-US based team to make it through to the post season a year ago, a particularly regrettable outcome.

In 1993, as they clinched that year’s Stanley Cup, the Canadiens couldn’t have known the years of frustration that would ensue.

The late 1990s brought with it a historical dip in the value of the Canadian dollar. That paired with the sunnier climes that suddenly surfaced as options in cities importing new teams in the US meant that the traditional powerhouses north of the border were impacted greatly.

However, in the last decade, Canada has quite obviously strengthened again and a salary cap has evened the playing field significantly more.

Not enough, though, to produce results in the NHL and avoid the sort of “Oh Canada” columns that spring up at this time of year.

That despite the backdrop of a ceaseless production line of Canada-born stars who have helped the national team win three of the last four gold medal games at the Winter Olympics.

True to form, nobody in New York City cares even a little bit about anything north of Rockland County.

The New York Rangers are the top seed in the Eastern Conference and emerged out of the regular season with the most wins.

If everything goes to plan, they will be facing Long Island’s New York Islanders in the next round and the city as well as the surrounding counties where the sport is really king will come to a standstill.

Apart from the obvious derby element, the Islanders are also going to be moving their games to Brooklyn later this year and so their fans will surely be traumatised if the last game they ever play at the decrepit Nassau Coliseum is part of a play-off series defeat to their loud and obnoxious neighbours from Manhattan.

It will be as good a chance as any for hockey to dominate the headlines and punch above its weight. The media capital of the country is starved of success in the other sports it treasures and the potential of seven games with so much at stake has upped the ante for this city’s world renowned nervous energy. Meanwhile, poor Canada will be forced to try again next year.

* johnwriordan@gmail.com

* Twitter: @JohnWRiordan

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