By JD Lagrange – According to numbers recently published by Sportsnet, the Montreal Canadiens have survived a pretty awful stretch while managing to retain their title of “Canada’s Team”. This is particularly impressive considering that in the meantime, the second favourite team nation-wide, the Toronto Maple Leafs, were one of the Stanley Cup contenders, only to fail winning a playoffs’ series for the 18th consecutive season.
Here is Sportsnet’s breakdown of percentage by region. Instead of using by province, they have amalgamated the Maritimes as one region and the prairies (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) as another.
Facts to note, the Canadiens are in the top-3 in all regions and in the top-2 in four of the six regions. The Leafs find themselves outside the top-3 in three of the six regions.
According to the most recent data from Statistic Canada, the total population in the country sits at around 38,654,738.
That is not considering the Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, which count for about 128,000 in population. But one can assume that the trend would be very close.
Now, based on Sportsnet’s percentages, here’s the breakdown between the two most popular teams in Canada:
Granted that those numbers are a bit skewed as not every Canadian is a hockey fan, but we can agree that most are at least a little bit across Canada.
The results show that the Toronto Maple Leafs have more fans in the country. However, they are almost exclusively in Ontario while the Montreal Canadiens are in the top-3 in all regions in Canada. So we can safely say that while Toronto is Ontario’s team, the Canadiens are Canada’s favourite team by a wide margin. At least in percentage of population across the country. Even in Ontario, the Habs are the second favourite team!
Imagine now how those numbers will be affected when the Canadiens return to winning on a more regular basis! It is no stretch to think that the scale will only be tipping more in favour of the team sporting the red, white and blue uniform.
Canada’s passion is hockey. While Parliament passed the National Sports of Canada Act which declared lacrosse to be “Canada’s National Summer Sport”, hockey is known as our Country’s winter sport. If you talk about passion though, lacrosse doesn’t come remotely close to hockey as the all year around National Sport and it’s been the case for decades. Just like in many aspect of our lives, Canadians can thank war veterans for the freedom they have to play and support the sport of hockey from coast to coast. What better than Remembrance Day to remind ourselves of the sacrifices our war veterans went through to not only provide us with our freedom, but their role in our National game.
World War I
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 40 Canadians who had ties to hockey passed at war between 1915 to 1918 in the First World War. It is important to note that the list is not reflective of all fallen Canadian hockey players who served, as no official count of hockey players was made upon enlistment. Memorial awards were created for many of these men, such as the Abbott Memorial Cup, to honour Edward Lyman Abbott, which was was awarded annually from 1919 through 1999 to the Junior “A” ice hockey Champion for Western Canada. As well, the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Trophy was presented annually from 1932 until 1971, by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and it represented the Eastern Canada junior hockey championship.
While not hockey related, Montreal is very familiar with the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, home of the Montreal Alouettes and the McGill Redbirds. Percival Molson is a war veteran who passed in July of 1917.
The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War. The cup was donated in 1919 by the Ontario Hockey Association. Since then, the format of the tournament to decide the winner of the cup has been altered a few times, but a key element remains: it is always a powerful symbol of remembrance.
At the 2010 Memorial Cup Tournament, held in Brandon, Manitoba, the championship trophy was rededicated to recognize Canada’s war dead from all conflicts. Veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War escorted the Memorial Cup in a touching ceremony that took place at CFB Shilo. It is now awarded each year to the junior hockey champions of the Canadian Hockey League.
World War II
During the Second World War, many National Hockey League players put their careers on hold to serve in the military. In Toronto, co-owner of the Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe (who had been decorated for bravery in the First World War) enlisted again at age 45. The Conn Smythe Trophy is handed to the NHL Playoffs’ MVP. Some players, like Maurice “Rocket” Richard, could not enlist because of injuries they had received during their hockey careers. In World War II, the number of Canadian casualties with ties to hockey reached around 50, according to Veterans Affairs.
Following the Second World War, the 1948 Winter Olympic Games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Many of the players on the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers hockey team, representing Canada, were Veterans of the war. Despite a challenging tournament, the men finished in first place. In 2000, the 1948 Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers’ gold medal win was selected as the ”greatest moment in Canadian Armed Forces sports history” and the team was inducted into the Canadian Olympics Hall of Fame in 2008.
During the post-war years, many military bases across Canada built rinks to allow soldiers, sailors and airmen to play hockey for recreational and training purposes. Not surprisingly, the old military-hockey connection has continued in more recent times. Hockey sticks are sometimes packed when Canadian troops deploy in conflict zones. For example, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where temperatures often reach 40°C, Canadian Armed Forces members built ball-hockey rinks. They played mostly at night, when the cooler temperature allowed for a faster-paced game. Former NHL players and celebrities like Guy Lafleur, Lanny MacDonald, Bob Probert and Don Cherry even went overseas to visit the troops, some of them playing exhibition games in mixed teams made up of hockey legends and serving members. But a hockey game wouldn’t be the same without referees, so former NHL officials were also on site to oversee the game!
Today, many NHL teams have special games to honour the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces. It is common to see professional athletes wear camouflage jerseys in warm-ups before those games and goaltenders sometimes play with specially-painted helmets that pay tribute to military members. Junior hockey teams design commemorative hockey jerseys, especially when playing in the Memorial Cup tournament. Ceremonial puck drops involving our men and women in uniform are held across Canada at all levels.
So on this Remembrance Day, take the necessary time to remember the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our beautiful Country and helped provide us with the freedom we are benefiting from today. It’s the least we can do. Lest We Forget…