(Sorry this post is a bit delayed – WordPress problems…)
So, Don Cherry ranted last weekend about there not being enough Ontario-born players on the Toronto Maple Leafs. No, he did. Really. (Read about it here, or see here if you want to watch it in all its video glory.) Now, I’m not a follower or fan of Mr. Cherry, so he might have referenced this belief before, I don’t know. I know what he has said about Europeans and “French guys” (some time ago, granted), but this Ontario thing seemed to come out of left field a bit.
But what was even stranger to me was the reaction. People seemed to actually take this seriously. Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski provided an analysis (with a big table, no less) and even the (normally) reliably bullshit-averse Ted Bird came down on Cherry’s side on this issue.
Has the world gone mad?
Bird offered that:
“Ontario produces more and better hockey players than any other province or country, and Cherry makes a legitimate hockey point when he says the Leafs are cheating themselves and their fans by not mining talent in their own diamond-rich backyard.”
Now, I don’t know if Ontario really produces more AND better hockey players, but Ted Bird knows more about hockey than I do and I am willing to take his word for it. But, even if that’s the case, why are there none on the Leaf’s roster? Why in the word would a Toronto hockey team pass over the “more and better” local Ontario players to employ the fewer and worse non-Ontario lot? Isn’t it possible that, on a case-by-case basis, the Leafs decided to sign, develop or trade for what looked like the best available player at the time and it just so happened that they were born somewhere else? I find it hard to even imagine how the where-the-player-was-born conversation could arise. When does it happen? Where does place of birth sit in the hierarchy of factors that are used to rate players?
Wyshynski noted the following in his piece (in discussing Cherry’s view that “it’s important to have Ontario-born players on the Leafs”):
“This is a bit more subjective, but we agree with Cherry. First, because it does matter to young players that they have NHLers to look up to; and seeing a guy who played in your youth leagues and grew up in your neighborhood making the show with a team that you root for is a hell of a motivator. Second, because even though the pressure is greater on players who are playing back home, so might the motivation to excel.”
Now, I’ve never played organized ice hockey, but I’m a Canadian and I grew up playing street hockey (and was blessed with enough speed to be not bad at it). The players I worshipped as a youth were chosen for (a) the team they played for (the Habs) and (b) their style of play (Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur). I didn’t give a hoot where they were born, or grew up, or played junior hockey. And although Wyshynski’s point that someone who “played in your youth leagues and grew up in your neighbourhood making the show with a team you root for is a hell of a motivator” has the ring of truth, the reality is that many, many, many more young players are inspired by NHLers whose skills, heart and work ethic resonate with them (regardless of their origins) than they are by the local boy who made good.
And a final note: even though Ted Bird exonerated Cherry from any accusations that “partisanship and politics” were at play in his rant, does he (or anyone) think for a second that the “fiercely loyal Ontarian” Cherry would say anything different even if Ontario didn’t produce more and better hockey players? My feeling is that Bird so wanted to draw a distinction between Cherry’s views and what Bird characterized as the “tireless drum-beating of Quebec media for more francophones on the Canadiens,” that he basically gave Cherry a pass, regardless of any logic to the contrary. I have to say that I fail to see any difference. Would Bird think the “tireless drum-beating” was OK if francophone areas produced “more and better” hockey players than other areas?
Comments, as always, are welcome.