SUN Hockey Pool

It's not our game anymore

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

The NHL is still in quarantine, but you wouldn't know it from the papers, TV and the radio.

This stillborn season is the domestic story of the year, maybe of the last bunch of years. It rouses us a whole lot more than, say, the sponsorship scandal, and you have to wonder why.

On the one hand you have a story in which incalculable millions, all of it ours, was sprayed across the Liberal landscape in the name of national unity and self-directed philanthropy.

ENTERTAINMENT

On the other, you have a hockey season that never started.

Guess which one everyone wants to dissect?

It's just hockey, not life. It's entertainment. Nice entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless.

Nobody died. Every son or daughter of an NHL player will eat today.

And yet the hockey story strikes to the heart of who we are. Not just because it's about hockey, but because it's about compromise or, in this case, the spectacular absence of it Wednesday morning when it mattered most.

It's about powerlessness.

Our powerlessness.

The whole thing, the heavy-handed lockout, the snotty tone between the lawyers, the duelling letters, it was all so un-Canadian.

You have to stretch to find something un-Canadian, but you can't find things more central to the Canadian soul than a dogged desire to retain our national character in the giant shadow cast by the United States or the belief in tolerance which, when set to action, becomes compromise.

Compromise is latent in our speech. We say "eh" because at the end of a declarative sentence, we still leave room for the other guy's opinion. We accommodate two official languages, an ocean of political views and every culture in the world. We like to think we are the world's peacekeepers, the global compromisers. It is who we are or, at least, who we like to think we are.

Having no hockey because neither Bob Goodenow nor Gary Bettman or their constituents would compromise on a $45-million US salary cap is more than just galling, more than just stupid. It has entered into that rarefied strata of un-Canadian.

Canadians consider the Stanley Cup playoffs right up there with insulin as this nation's great gift to the world. This year's tournament was scuttled by the boys in New York, the same bunch that watched franchises in Winnipeg and Quebec head south. It doesn't matter that teams in Edmonton and Ottawa were nurtured past insolvency by that same administration.

The people who own the game and the people who play it couldn't divide up a $2-billion pie and we, tenants all of the branch office, had no say at all.

We're all just stomping our feet.

We never stopped looking on the NHL as ours. Maybe it's because Canadian teams won the Stanley Cup so often, 23 times in Montreal, 11 times in Toronto, five more in Edmonton and once in Calgary.

Maybe it's because we still supply 60% of the workforce. Maybe it's because we support the game so ardently in NHL cities and tune in so dutifully in the points in between.

But the game isn't ours.

It's theirs.

It belongs to Tom Hicks and Mike Ilitch and Bill Wirtz and Peter Karmanos and Jeremy Jacobs and 20 other U.S. firms, including the one owned by George Gillett operating in Montreal.

It was the same in the early days of the league when Big Jim Norris ran three of the six teams out of his office in Chicago. It will always be thus.

The business belongs to the players and the union and the equipment manufacturers and the programmers and the sponsors, to the beer companies and the television networks.

FOOLISH PRIDE

This too, strikes to the heart of what it means to be Canadian: to think you own something just because you care about it, to mistake yourself for the cow when you are merely the teat.

If the greed of the owners and players has been exposed by the lockout and the failed talks, so too has our foolish pride. That's what rankles.

After all, what can be more sweetly and sadly Canadian than the sting you feel when the real owners show up and dismiss you as the squatter you are?


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