Years from now, when the wounds are somewhat healed and the sting is less potent, fans will speak of the time in Spring of 2016 when not one of the seven Canadian hockey teams made the playoffs. Arenas were empty, ice melted, and Canadians, including myself, made their scotch a double, with no ice, for there was no team representing Canada in the playoffs for the first time since the current Prime Minister’s father held office.
A year after Canada was shut out of the NHL playoffs for the first time in forty-six years, five Canadian teams have made their return in quest for the Stanley Cup. The Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames are skating beyond 82 games after a brief, one-year absence, the rookie-heavy Toronto Maple Leafs stunned the hockey world by making the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, and the Edmonton Oilers have clawed their way back after a long, 11-year drought after losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Avenging last year’s embarrassing playoff bagel is crucial for the game of hockey. Canada is the world’s hub for ice hockey, the great game was born in Canada and it is a national pastime much like baseball was, and football is, to America.
While five of the seven Canadian teams – sorry Vancouver and Winnipeg – are rejoicing, it is important to note the adversity and struggle that the teams have gone through to claw their way back to sports’ greatest playoffs. Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary have gone through coaching changes both before the 2016-17 season and during. The adjustments made by players to a new coach’s system can be tedious and arduous, yet they all still managed to snag a playoff spot and Montreal was even able to win the Atlantic division. Since the last time the Edmonton Oilers were in the playoffs, they have had four first-overall picks, including three in a row. To put this in simpler terms, the Oilers have had the league’s worst record four times in the span of ten years. They have also gone through six head coaches, three general managers, and even one arena. Safe to say the Oilers have paid their dues and deserve to be back competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
At the start of the season, I am not sure anyone in Toronto thought that a team with nine rookies would stand a chance at making the playoffs. Fast forward seven months later and the Maple Leafs have stunned the hockey world and “the kids” are in the thick of the playoffs with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist. The Maple Leafs have given life back to Toronto, which can now boast about having all its major sports franchises competing for a championship. Toronto will be a force for years to come.
Canada and the National Hockey League can rejoice knowing that playoff hockey is back home. Hockey is the nation’s pastime, and when Canada does well, the NHL thrives and fandom soars through the roof as American teams can now once again compete with their rivals to the North.
Author: Peter Lambos