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An Open Letter to Canada

(Today's regularly scheduled gameday will be not be seen today because I felt like writing this instead. All I'll say about tonight's game is that if Ryan Smyth leaves California with his bones intact, I'll be very disappointed.)

Dear Canada,

Hey, what’s up, ya hosers? (Sorry, I bet you’re really tired of that. By the way, how do you guys say "Behoove?" I bet it’s hilarious.) I hope you’re not too cold up there in the Great White North, and hopefully you were able to get all that snow out of the way. It’s been cold here in L.A. too; yesterday it was almost 40 degrees! Anyway, I think we have to have a little talk. You see, I’m a hockey fan here in L.A. (I know, they exist? Good joke, really, I can’t hear it enough) and I’m starting wonder about your commitment to hockey. I’m not saying you’re not good fans, you guys are passionate and that’s great, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe you’re hurting the sport by loving it too much.

I think what I’m trying to say is that you guys are a more little focused on making sure hockey is still a "Canadian" sport than worrying about its health overall. Read this thread or this article and tell me that Canadians really seem concerned with growing the sport. You guys are acting like that one Biblical dude who would rather split the calf in half than let someone else have it. (What was his name… Jesus?) Look, if Nashville eventually has to move, fine, I get the economics of the situation… but you guys seem to be reveling in their failure, like it proves your hockey superiority or something. It’s not good for the sport if Nashville moves, no more than it was when Winnipeg and Quebec moved. The future of the game rests with the teams in the Southern part of the United States; if they fail, the league fails. I’m not sure you guys realize that.

Another thing that’s been bothering me: you guys criticize the NHL's position in the American sports scene a lot. Actually, there are 2 groups of people that constantly mock the NHL: idiot sports "personalities" like Jim Rome and Canadians. The first I can understand: radio talk show hosts are lower than Ducks fans. But the second? I think there’s something deeper here. I get the impression that you guys don’t really want hockey to succeed in the United States. You want to keep hockey to yourself, and you justify it by saying, "Well, nobody watches hockey in the United States, they don’t even want the game." I think I understand why, too; I’m not Canadian, so I can’t really pretend to know the national psyche, but I think you guys might be a little worried about being irrelevant. Hockey is what makes Canada unique on the global scene, and if you lose that then the only thing you’ll have left are moose and flannel. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Is that accurate?

You guys have to understand, though, that someone isn’t going to watch a sport if they think they don’t think it’s important. It’s like… you guys ever get the show Firefly? It was on a while ago, it was created by the guy who did Buffy I think. Anyway, it had a loyal fanbase that constantly talked about how great the show was and bombarded magazines with letters any time they mentioned it. What happened was, new people didn’t watch the show because they didn’t feel like they knew it enough to engage with it like the older fans. The result? The show got cancelled. I’m not saying hockey’s going to get cancelled or anything, but it’s running the risk of being irrelevant. Basically, these constant articles questioning hockey’s relevance are fulfilling their own prophecy by pushing away people that might otherwise be attracted to hockey. You keep trying to gauge your importance in hockey, and you’re pushing away potential fans because of it. You’re holding the game so close to your chest that you’re suffocating it.

I’m sorry if this is kind of rambling, but I’m not really trying to make a point, just trying to get a dialogue started. I’m still not quite sure what I think myself, but I think what I’m trying to say is this: you don’t own hockey anymore. I know you created it, and hey, I’m very glad you did, I love the sport. But it’s not yours anymore. I know you hate Gary Bettman because he’s American and he doesn’t understand the history of the game or whatever, but trying to expand hockey in America is a good idea. Moving teams to Hamilton is a step backwards for the league because those people are going to watch hockey whether they have a team or not. A team moving from Nashville or Pittsburgh or Anaheim (fingers crossed) will completely destroy hockey in that area.

If you think about it in terms of making the sport better, there’s a good chance the greatest hockey player in the world has never laced up a pair of skates because he decided to play basketball or baseball or football or soccer instead. Think about it like this: California leads the NFL, MLB, and the NBA in terms of athletes currently playing the sport. In contrast, there have been 18 NHL players in the history of the sport from California. (I’m not sure if that’s current.) In the last draft, a defenseman named Jonathon Blum was drafted by the Nashville Predators. He was the first Californian to be drafted in the 1st round in the history of the NHL. This isn’t a fluke; this is the future of hockey. The choice is yours: do you want to keep hockey and watch it sink into an abyss shared by lacrosse, soccer, and paintball, or are you willing to let it go and watch it succeed? It’s up to you.


Rudy Kelly