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Geoff Baker: Canada's loss is NHL's gain as Stanley Cup drought continues north of the border

By Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

SEATTLE - Seattle-area hockey fixture Jamie Huscroft chuckles knowingly at the reality of another year without a Stanley Cup championship north of the border.

For new NHL fans unfamiliar, it's become a yearly tradition to note that no Canadian city has won a Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. The Vancouver Canucks on Friday were this year's final Canadian contender eliminated.

British Columbia native Huscroft, 53, who played in Canada for the Canucks and Calgary Flames, as well as the U.S.-based Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, then-Phoenix (now-Arizona) Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, understands his homeland's Cup drought angst.

"The average American fan, we love our hockey, but not like in Canada," said the onetime Seattle Breakers and Thunderbirds junior star, now facilities director with Sno-King hockey association. "They're anxious about it because they're very prideful when it comes to their national sport. They'll gather on a Saturday night and watch a doubleheader of NHL games on television with the whole family because that's what they've always done. It's just a way of life."

It's a way of life that once included Canada-wide mockery of the Toronto Maple Leafs going Cup-less since 1967. Now, the entire country must make fun of itself, instead of just one team, while casting an anxious eye to the south.

Why is this a thing? Well, unlike other "Big 4" major professional sports, the NHL is the only one where Americans are a minority - comprising about 26% of players. Canadians have dwindled, but still lead all nations at 43%.

 

Sportsnet's television rights deal in Canada generates more NHL revenue than NBC's in the U.S. Every major individual NHL player trophy is named after a Canadian, except the Lady Byng - donated by the British wife of Canada's onetime governor general. Of 289 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame, 258 are Canadian and only 16 are American, even including dual-citizens.

So, the lack of recent championships for the seven Canadian teams is viewed with consternation by hockey's birth country. It shouldn't matter - U.S.-based champions are always loaded with Canadians - but it's angst rooted in the reality an NHL once 90% Canadian as recently as the 1970s is now half that.

Conversely, optimistic American fans view it as a further sign of league parity and diversity.

Interestingly, what kept Vancouver alive until Game 7 was San Diego-born backup goaltender Thatcher Demko. An NHL player hailing from San Diego - let alone a goalie - was akin to a quarterback from Bolivia until defenseman Chad Ruhwedel joined Pittsburgh in 2012, followed by Demko's 2018 debut.

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