Beer and Hockey

Oh, the joys of sports in June on high-definition television!

For the past few weeks I have shouted myself hoarse and disturbed my neighbors alternating between broadcasts of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League finals. On off days and nights there’s always baseball, tennis and golf to tide me over.

With LeBron James and the Miami Heat having repeated as N.B.A. champions in a tough seven-game contest against the San Antonio Spurs, I can now focus on the Stanley Cup matchup — currently tied at a couple of wins apiece — between two of the six original N.H.L. teams: the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.

But I wonder if I would be writing this had I stayed in Montreal instead of moving to the United States. When I was a teenager I once gave my grandfather Max a lift to New York City, where he would stay at the men’s “Y” and take in a few operas. Couldn’t he satisfy his operatic cravings back home, I asked? No, he explained. “Canadians only care about beer and hockey.”

At the time that sentiment didn’t really bother me. During the 1960s and ‘70s the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup no fewer than 11 times. As we fancied ourselves the world’s most enlightened hockey fans, my friends and I even chose second teams to cheer for. Mine was the Bruins, led by one Bobby Orr, whom a select few (myself included) consider the most talented player in N.H.L. history. For the record, this year I’m pulling for the Blackhawks. It just seems unfair to me that residents of a metro area about the same size as Montreal’s should have so many glamorous teams.

Lord Stanley's Cup of the N.H.L.

Lord Stanley’s Cup of the N.H.L.

Bostonians host baseball’s American League Red Sox, the National Football League Patriots, the N.B.A. Celtics and the Bruins, all of whom have been champions in recent memory. Montrealers have the Canadiens, who haven’t brought home the Cup in two long decades. The National League Montreal Expos left town in 2004 to be reincarnated as the Washington Nationals yet never won a World Series in 25 up-and-down years. Need I even mention the Alouettes of the threadbare Canadian Football League?

I can’t speak for Torontonians, who have the American League Blue Jays and N.B.A. Raptors along with those perennial N.H.L. losers, the Maple Leafs, but many men of my generation in Montreal live in an isolation of former glories. The Habs, as Les Canadiens are fondly known at home, play beneath 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging in the Centre Bell – “more championships than any other professional team,” a fan informed me on a recent Quebec trip. Not one to let a false claim go uncorrected, I pointed out that the New York Yankees boast 27 World Series titles. Despite their recent struggles, the Bronx Bombers are a good bet to win more. But the small-market Habs, I fear, might not be triumphant again while I’m still around.

On a more positive note, in a city where the sports sections of both French- and English-language dailies contain mostly hockey stories – even in August – younger fans appear to have broader interests. After all, there are few things more beautiful than basketball’s three-point shot, like the one Ray Allen made in game six to quash the Spurs’ near-certain victory in the N.B.A. finals. Up there too is great baseball defense, notably the well-turned double play, as my late uncle Sonny would tell you, together with the long passing game in professional and college football.

Still, I understand that a lot of my compatriots to the north aren’t interested in the Stanley Cup finals because no team based in a Canadian city is contending. That kind of parochialism I’m only too glad to have left behind.

3 thoughts on “Beer and Hockey

  1. Every once in a while it’s good to be reminded that I have a relative who might be as smart and eloquent as I. Very good read.

  2. Nate Silver, the New York Times uber mensch on statistics, reviewed this in his blog:

    How can you challenge his wisdom when he strips away the emotion, going for what he perceives as relevant hard fact? But let’s boil it down to the essentials. If smoked meat was so good, why hasn’t it gone mainstream in the U.S. while poutine is hot? We all think maple syrup is the cat’s meow but its sales are not even within the margin of error of high-fructose corn syrup. Doesn’t it appear that no matter the arm pitching the ball, if the spin isn’t there, the pitch relies upon whims? We live in times of mediocrity.

    • Nate Silver is Amazing. Canada should have more N.H.L. teams. And if you take his argument one step further, Canadian teams would win more Stanley Cups if Canadians took more interest in sports other than hockey. It’s the lack of competition that keeps Canadiens and Maple Leafs home games sold out, and the teams mediocre. Having said that, I can tell you that smoked meat is a lot harder to make than poutine, and real maple syrup is much more expensive than corn syrup.

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