That the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins will meet in the Stanley Cup Finals tonight is very fitting. I recently watched the run of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on Netflix (great acting, surprisingly bad writing) and it was Bradley Whitford’s Danny that didn’t want to film a movie in Vancouver. “We’re not shooting in Vancouver. I’m drawing the line on the insanity. Vancouver doesn’t look like anything. It doesn’t even look like Vancouver. It looks like Boston, California.” That was maybe the one laugh-out-loud line for this former New Englander. It’s nice to think that Boston has a West Coast Canadian Dopplegänger. The Vancouver Canucks have not won the Stanley Cup in all of their 40 years of existence. Which include some of the most awesome uniforms in the history of all sports. My Boston Bruins have not won in my lifetime. They last won a Stanley Cup eight months before I was born. In the early ’70s, Boston was a hockey town and Bobby Orr was its overlord. But I come not to write about hockey, today. I come to write about National Anthems.
Rene Rancourt is a Boston Garden Legend. Age Unknown, he has been singing the American and the Canadian National Anthems before Bruins games for 35 years. He is, quite frankly, The Man. In 2004, the Bruins’ rivalry with the Montreal Canadians mixed in with politics in the first round of the playoffs. Montreal fans brutally booed the U.S. National Anthem during the first two games of the First Round of the Playoffs. In response, the Boston fans stood and cheered and knocked together those horrible thundersticks during Rancourt’s stirring version of the Canadian National Anthem. I’m telling you, Rene Rancourt makes grown men cry with his Anthem singing. You may have heard the song a million times, but that dude bangs it out. I’m a much bigger fan of the Canadian National Anthem than the American National Anthem. I’m hoping at some point the U.S. could have an American Idol-like show in which we try to write a better National Anthem and everyone gets to vote. “American Anthem?” Janet Jones Gretzky could be a judge for symmetry’s sake.
Anyway, the 2004 cheering of the Canadian National Anthem is a golden moment of class for a New England Fan Base that has kind of a bad reputation in the class department. But maybe unfairly. I was there the day Fenway Park gave Yankees manager Joe Torre a standing ovation on his first game back after cancer treatment. And I was there the day Charles Barkley grabbed a microphone and addressed the Boston Garden crowd to a standing ovation at the halftime of a Celtics/Rockets game one day after his career-ending injury. Fenway gave a standing O to DiMaggio during his last appearance, and they will do the same for Derek Jeter. Perhaps we pick our moments when it comes to class. Or, given the time to think about how we want to respond, our better, smarter angels are victorious.
The Canadian National Anthem is just frankly an awesome song. I wish it was played before all NHL hockey games. If I were in charge of the league there would be an even amount of Canadian and American teams and those would be the two conferences. I’d keep both New York teams (move the Islanders to Brooklyn, for my own personal convienence), Boston, Chicago, Buffalo, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Detroit, Dallas (they have a huge fanbase, what are you gonna do?), St. Louis, L.A., maybe move a team to Hartford, Anchorage or Milwaukee. Then add in a bunch of Canadian teams in Regina, British Columbia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, etc. Have a Canadian conference and an American conference. You can’t tell me that regular season game between Quebec and Hamilton wouldn’t be a barnburner. Or that, when the Toronto Maple Leafs came to your Canadian Town you wouldn’t want to be at that game. Hockey is Canada’s game. We’re just borrowing it here.
Under that scenario, a U.S. team would always be playing a Canadian team for the Stanley Cup. The All-Star game would always be Canada v. U.S. And, if the Vancouver Gold Medal Hockey Game was any example, everyone would be happy and would probably watch. There is a healthy, awesome rivalry between the U.S. and Canada in hockey that transferred over to the ice during that Gold Medal Game. It was not just the best hockey game many of us had seen in decades, it was the most watched in, like, ever.
One drawback to the rivalry has been the booing of the American National Anthem. Maybe more understandable in 2004, when the U.S. was invading countries for no reason. I mean, we’re still there, but we’re trying to get out. Leaving is the hardest part, as Senator Tom Petty once sang. It may just be a Montreal thing. I don’t remember if Ottawa or Edmonton booed the National Anthem during their recent Stanley Cup Finals. And, yeah, I get it. America sucks. We’re the big boisterous polluting nation to your South where the sun actually comes out once in a while and Summer isn’t just a week in July. All of Canada’s most talented folks usually move down here and become U.S. citizens to become even bigger stars. But you guys have health care and that pronouncing “about” thing. So I’d say it’s a wash. We should be Abbot and Costello, Batman and Robin. But the truth is, Robin secretly hates Batman. We saw that with Scottie Pippin’s recent blasphemer statements about how Michael Jordan maybe isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time. Even if he’s not, Pippin should say he is. Without Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin would be just another good basketball player with no championship rings. A less funny Charles Barkley. So I get why Canadians might hate Americans. We’re such jackasses, it’s true.
But that’s no reason to boo our National Anthem. I’d like to think I live in a world where Canadians react to things Better Than Americans Would. Canadians are nicer than us. You don’t invade countries; and when I was abroad in the Czech Republic, I frequently pretended to be Canadian so I wouldn’t have to talk about American foreign policy. Which is generally asinine. If I was the President, my foreign policy would be directed by Noam Chomsky. Just whatever he wants, that’s fine. Let him be our moral compass for a while.
I don’t get why Canadians boo our National Anthem publicly at big hockey games. You can whistle all you want during it, we don’t really get that whistling thing. Americans don’t hear whistling as booing. We just think it’s wolf whistle cheering. So, that’s fine. But booing is booing. Have you ever heard boos? They are amazingly cutting. What a sound! It is no fun to be booed. I personally like being booed during poetry readings more than I like Poetry Applause. I have a complicated relationship with applause. Laughter I like. Applause? Eh. Booing I love! But, in general, booing is terrifying. And being booed by Canadians is even more jarring. It’s one thing if you’re booed in Philadelphia or Chicago. That’s like being greeted warmly. Canadians booing? That’s like being spit on by an angel. Or having a unicorn take a crap on your chest while you’re sleeping.
Can we skip that part of the Stanley Cup Finals this year? Hockey is the one sport in which an award is given for Sportsmanship. And that the series doesn’t end until all the players on both teams have shaken hands. I’d like to think that that’s the Canadian influence. I wish baseball players would greet each other with handshakes before games. And American football players would all bow in prayer together for their safety before kick-offs. In soccer, they shake hands before all games. But it’s easier to be charitable and sportsman-like before a game. It’s quite another thing to line up and congratulate the people who just beat you. That’s real sportsmanship, and that is one of the truly great things about hockey. We love our games because they teach us something about ourselves, about who we really are when all the pressure is on. Those who act with grace and humanity in such moments deserve our profound respect. In hockey, the National Anthems set the tone for the game.
No doubt, the Stanley Cup Finals will be heated affairs. Let’s all set a tone of sportsmanship and civility to begin them. I honestly will be happy for Vancouver if they win the Stanley Cup over the Bruins. If the Bruins win, I will be experiencing feelings I haven’t felt since 2004 or 2002. The Celtics always win, so their victories in my lifetime simply confirmed our birthright as fans. But if the Bruins end up victorious, I will be witnessing something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in all of sports. And to see it lifted up by my Bruins is unthinkable. I want to sip chowder from the Stanley Cup. That’s what I’d rather be thinking about during these Finals. Not Booing. Booing begets stories about booing (like this one I guess). But, if you’re reading this, there is still time for Vancouver to take the high road. Let’s enjoy hockey! And save the booing for the actual game.
Jim Behrle tweets at @behrle for your possible amusement.
Photo by Dan4th, from Flickr.