Thursday, April 27, 2006

European Invasion

ESPN's Scott Burnside has a piece up here, with the rather uninspiring headline "Cluster of countrymen proves successful for some" -- letting the world know that a hockey team can indeed win the Stanley Cup with a bunch of Europeans. It'd be a lot more effective, true, if any of the teams he picked to illustrate his point were LEADING their playoff series right now, but the larger issue -- why in the name of Jiří Hrdina is this even remotely an issue in 2006? Not to pick on Burnside here -- his piece is pleasant and innocuous, but there are still plenty of hockey fans who would disagree with his article.

It's a bizarre state of mind that seems unique to hockey fans. If a baseball fan decides players from Latin America just don't care as much about the World Series as Americans, he's rightly seen as a fringe loony. Basketball -- with much less of a European player history than the NHL -- still seems far more progressive about it. But in hockey, it's still considered quite acceptable to Euro-bash.

It's not just a playoff issue -- witness the debate over the two star rookies. When it's finally grudgingly admitted that Ovechkin had a better year than Crosby, it comes with the caveat that he's two years older. Like he cheated. Canadian fans act like they'll undergo a nationwide penis-shrinkage if it's acknowledged that Ovechkin might actually be in Sid's class.

But it's the postseason where the weirdo hockey nationalists really come out to play. The Rangers won't win because they have too many Europeans! They'd rather be at the World Championships! No, the Rangers won't win because they don't have enough depth and their defense is pretty thin.

There've been enough excellent European playoff performances by now -- off the top of my head, Bure in '94, Kamensky in '96, Zubov, Kovalev, Hejduk, all those Red Wings douchebags -- that it's not really any sort of valid question any more, but there's still an undercurrent of "Euros disappear in April." It's a sad, silly argument, and the underlying causes aren't easy to counter -- is it best to send Patrik Eliáš and Martin Havlát around to explain their first round stats? Perhaps kneecap Don Cherry? Hell, I dunno. It's late and I've had a bit much to drink.

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