Are we willing to embrace ‘Canada’s team’ in hockey playoffs?

Geography determines whether you'll root for another city's team chasing the Stanley Cup

May 13, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring the over time goal to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in game one of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena. (Don Wright/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

The Ottawa Senators captured Canada’s attention as they skated their way into the Eastern Conference Final of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But did they capture the country’s support, too?

One year after a post-season void of any Canadian teams, we embraced springtime hockey north of the border once again. But as three of those teams were ousted after Round 1 (farewell, Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Flames) and one more after Round 2 (’til next time, Oilers), that left us with Ottawa as the NHL’s lone Canadian club left standing as we headed into the final four.

    The Senators were eventually eliminated by the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but not before sparking another edition of a popular debate centred around the idea of “Canada’s Team” and with it, a very patriotic question: How important is geography when it comes to our bandwagon allegiances?


    Turns out, location really is key.

    The results of an online survey conducted as part of The Canada Project to mark our nation’s 150th year revealed that 76 per cent of Canadians said they would cheer for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup even if it’s not the team they typically cheer for. Seven per cent said they would not root for a Canadian team that wasn’t their own, while 17 per cent said they were not hockey fans at all.

    These results were fairly consistent throughout all age groups as well as regions of Canada. Ontario residents were listed as most likely to root for a Canadian team different than their own (81 per cent) while Quebecers were least likely (68 per cent).

    The NHL is at once both dominated by Canadian hockey players and located primarily in the United States with 23 American-based teams (24 now that the Vegas Golden Knights have landed) compared to Canada’s seven, and there’s no denying our country’s Cup-starved status in the league these days.

    It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since a Canadian team hoisted Lord Stanley’s trophy. Yes, the Stanley Cup makes several trips to the Great White North every off-season as Canadians playing on U.S.-based teams bring the prize home to celebrate with family and friends — but seeing the Cup won on Canadian ice would be a whole other story.


    This year’s surprising success in Ottawa had even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a noted Habs fan — rallying support for the Senators.

    “I think all Canadians will be rooting for the final Canadian team in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Trudeau said during a news conference in early May.

    “We’re all happy to support Ottawa right now,” he said. “Even Torontonians and Montrealers can agree on this particular one.”

    Asking Maple Leafs and Canadiens fans to set aside their differences in favour of the Senators seems like a crazy notion, just as it would be for Oilers, Canucks, or Jets supporters to fan the Flames and join the C of Red for a series or two. Though, based on the survey results, it’s a lot more plausible than we think.

    Ottawa is hardly the first team to bear the responsibility of being “Canada’s Team.” There have been others in recent history, including the 2004 Flames, 2006 Oilers and 2010 Canadiens, among others. Each brings its own story — often that of an underdog variety — and a likeable cast of characters. This year’s Senators were certainly no exception.