If there’s one thing that unites Canadians, it’s our love for our national sport, hockey. Playing street hockey with the neighbourhood kids is an indispensable rite of Canadian childhood. Growing up to become a professional hockey player in the National Hockey League, or “making it to The Show”, as this honour is sometimes called, is a dream shared by many a young Canuck. Canadians have seldom celebrated as hard as when both the Canada Men’s and Women’s Olympic Hockey Teams won gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and they have seldom wept as bitterly as when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey team, crashed into an eighteen-wheeler on the Saskatchewan Highway 35 in the spring of 2018. As Canadian figure skater and Olympic gold medallist Patrick Chan put it, “hockey is our sport, and it will be for eternity.”
Despite the Great White North’s unbridled enthusiasm for its national game, it’s been 29 years since a Canadian National Hockey League (NHL) team won the Stanley Cup, the coveted NHL championship trophy. Until recently, there were 31 teams in the NHL, and seven of them are Canadian. If the winners of the Stanley Cup were chosen at random, the odds that American NHL teams would win the championship 29 years in a row would be 1 in 1672. Of course, the NHL championship is not a game of chance, and there are many factors which determine a team’s likelihood of making and progressing through the playoffs. So what sets Canadian NHL teams apart from their American counterparts?
Are the coaches of Canadian teams less competent than those of American teams? No.
Are the players paid differently? No.
Do American teams have an unfair advantage in the draft? No.
According to some, the only difference between Canadian and American NHL teams is the sort of treatment they receive from the officials during playoffs.
For years, Canadian hockey fans have observed that NHL referees seem to favour American teams, especially during playoff season. The refs appear to be disproportionately tough on Canadian players, but also seen to turn a blind eye to a staggering number of American infractions.
Why would hockey referees favour American teams over Canadian teams? Some paranoid Canadians suspect that they are pressured to do so by the National Hockey League, which has a financial motive to increase hockey’s popularity in the United States. Securing the fanship of America’s larger and wealthier pool of sports lovers would certainly allow the NHL to make more money off network revenue. Perhaps, some say, the NHL is doing everything its power to extend the seasons of American hockey teams for as long as possible in an effort to spread the game throughout the Land of Opportunity.
Although this conspiracy theory has certainly received its fair share of scoffs and scorn, skeptics would be hard-pressed to provide an alternative explanation for an objectively outrageous call made tonight, during game one of the Western Conference final between the Edmonton Oilers, based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and the Denver-based Colorado Avalanche, wherein the alleged officiatory bias against Canadian teams has never been on such blatant display.
For those unfamiliar with the game, the aim of ice hockey is to use one’s stick to shoot a rubber puck into the opposing team’s net, thus scoring a goal. The team with the most goals wins the game.
The rink on which hockey games are played is divided in half by a centre line. Each team’s respective half of the ice is further bisected by a blue line. The quarter of the ice between the blue line and the centre line is called the “neutral zone”, and the quarter between the blue line and the net is called the “offensive zone”.
In ice hockey, there is a rule that the puck cannot enter the opposing team’s offensive zone until that zone is devoid of friendly players. A player is considered to be in the offensive zone when both of his skates are completely across the blue line. This rule is designed to prevent players from cherry picking, or hovering near the opposing team’s net to await a pass. To violate this rule is to go “offside”. Special referees called linesmen are responsible for policing such infractions. When such an infraction occurs, the linesman blows his whistle, puts an end to the play, and initiates a new play in the adjacent neutral zone.
At the very end of the first period of tonight’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado’s forward, Valeri Nichushkin (#13), was deep in Edmonton’s offensive zone when his teammate, Cale Makar (#3), skated across the blue line with the puck. Instead of calling this blatant offside, the linesman allowed Makar to score a goal on Edmonton with 13 second left on the clock.
Edmonton’s coach, Jay Woodcroft, challenged the goal, prompting the officials to review tapes of the play to determine whether Colorado was indeed offside. In what is perhaps the most ridiculous call in NHL playoff history, the referees, even after reviewing the play, inexplicably ruled Makar’s goal onside, to the astonishment of hockey fans across Canada.
Is this blatant robbery of the Edmonton Oilers proof of a conspiracy to keep Canadian hockey teams from winning the Stanley Cup? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.