Last night the home team at HSBC Arena was thoroughly outplayed to thunderous applause from a capacity crowd. While the HD video boards urged fans to support the home team, a crowd of red and white found something else to chant that fit the tempo.
And I’m okay with it. In fact, last night was an extremely interesting occasion and I’m glad I got to experience it.
Look, I’m not doing the “bargaining” state of grief management or anything. Team Canada played a fantastic hockey game in front of a partisan crowd and absolutely deserved to win. There’s no questioning that, and you won’t find anyone who says the United States deserved that game.
But just because I was rooting for Team USA last night doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the game. In fact, the atmosphere was absolutely everything I hoped for before puck drop. It was insanely loud and the building was packed to the gills.
There was something missing, of course. Not only did Team USA fail to perform on the ice, there weren’t many supporters in the crowd either. Red and white dominated the color scheme in the HSBC Arena seating bowl, to the point that it was downright jarring at times.
But anyone who somehow faults Buffalo or finds reason to blame anybody for the dearth of Canadian supporters in the building last night is hilariously missing the point. This tournament is a Canadian event at its core, economic and geological proof not necessary.
And no matter what a nagging inferiority complex screams at you, this is okay. As much as a small and ferverent group of hockey fans in the United States wish it were otherwise, the Canadian collective truly cares about this thing in a way the United States simply doesn’t.
Look at the ads on the boards and the glass. Look at the TV ratings and the media presence. Look at the crowd and the traffic at the bridge and the chatter on Twitter.
Listen to the crowd:
When the United States lost the gold medal game in Vancouver last year I learned something about myself and why I love hockey so much. Last night, however, was different. Last night, I think I learned something about Canada.
To be frank: They love hockey, and by extension their country, in a way I simply do not love mine. That doesn’t mean they love it more or even necessarily better, but it is decidedly different.
This brings up quite a few questions, the first of which is how people who live in close proximity to me have very different methods of consumption. Both the United States and Canada have cities called Niagara Falls right next to one another that are remarkably different. I live in the American one, but how different would I be if I grew up on the other side?
Still, this isn’t a question of international boundaries but rather philosophical ideologies. Canada isn’t better than the United States as a nation. You can hold that debate but it won’t be resolved no matter what rules you want to impose but it’s just not possible to calculate.
What is measurable is just how different the two nations are. For example, I had a very hard time deciding what to wear to the two United States games I attended during the tournament. I own two USA-anything shirts, one a twoeightnine original I bought this summer for the World Cup and also because I’ve met Matt and like his shirts. I also have a USA Olympic shirt I bought before the Vancouver games.
Still, two very subdued shirts that don’t really have much to do with the tournament I had tickets for. I don’t own a Team USA jersey or hat or scarf and I had little desire to purchase one during the three trips I made to the Arena.
My lack of bombasticly patriotic attire isn’t exactly surprising, but compared to the Team Canada gear I see on a daily basis it is a striking contrast. To be a Canadian hockey fan it seems like you need an NHL team jersey and then an international sweater to match. I’m not alone in thinking I wouldn’t get much use out of the latter if it were red, white and blue.
Then again, I don’t know of anyone who owns a Team USA basketball jersey, either. Patriotism around here seems to be an Old Navy flag tee worn twice a year. There’s nothing wrong with that, but go to a mall pn a random day five months from now and you’ll see red and white maple leafs everywhere. It’s just a different world.
Rambling about clothing has nothing to do with hockey, but I think it certainly plays into the psychology of being a hockey fan for sure. People marvel at the Red Mile in Calgary where everyone sports a red Flames jersey, but to an NHL hockey fan it seems rational to own one. To walk into HSBC Arena and see thousands and thousands of Hockey Canada jerseys is a very different story.
Sitting in section 311 surrounded by Canadian hockey fans wasn’t an embarrassing event. There was heckling and jingoistic cheers and lots of shouting, but sitting there made this whole thing seem a bit silly. Feeling the enormity of the moment in Buffalo made knowing how little the rest of America cared that much more interesting.
If no one else cares, how much does it really matter? That, I think, is another debate that doesn’t really have an answer. Simply saying it doesn’t matter is unfairly dismissing an entire people, but assuming it does is just as silly.
What it comes down to is that it matters to them. To us, I guess, the people paying attention.
It’s a small body of water when you take a step back, but that doesn’t mean it’s not deep.