Strong Canadian showing in NHL playoffs is good news for fans

For Russ Jericho, seeing the Edmonton Oilers enter the Stanley Cup playoffs is the culmination of an unlikely passion.

Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Jericho said he was first exposed to hockey at age 13 when he was searching for something to watch on TV one evening and came across a new channel that broadcast North American sports.

His childhood love of “Back to the Future,” starring Edmonton native Michael J. Fox, and Edmonton-based professional wrestler Chris Benoit eventually drew him to the Oilers fandom. The team’s Stanley Cup victory in his birth year, 1985, sealed what would become a lifelong dedication.

“I always put it like this,” the now 38-year-old said from Blackpool, Lancashire, Saturday: “I didn’t choose the Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers chose me.”

Jericho is one of countless Canadian hockey team fans eagerly following this year’s Stanley Cup Finals, which in addition to the Oilers features the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets. Not since 2017 have so many Canadian teams made it to the tournament. And not since 1993 has Canada claimed a Stanley Cup championship.

Jericho said he spent part of his inheritance following his father’s death last year on a vacation to attend four Oilers games this season.

“I’m hoping they’re going to go all the way,” he said. “I really am.”

Meanwhile, Bobby St. Laurent, a self-described diehard Jets fan and a season-ticket holder has to settle for watching Game 1 against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night on TV.

But don’t feel too bad for him — it’s because he and his girlfriend are at a resort in Cancun, Mexico.

“I’ll be partying in the pool at the resort all day. And then I’ll be in my room at 6 o’clock for the puck drop and I’ll watch the whole game. I’ll probably order room service to the room and I’ll cheer on our Jets.”

“I’ve got a Jets tank top I’ll be wearing tomorrow and I’ve also got Jets shorts, too. I’ll be ready to go.”

St. Laurent, whose love affair with the Jets goes back to the 1970s when they were in the World Hockey Association and he sold popcorn at their games at Winnipeg Arena, said he’ll be back in the city to watch Game 2 on Tuesday night in person.

And he plans on taking part in Winnipeg’s famous Whiteout parties, where thousands of fans gather in the city’s downtown for playoff games.

“I’m just a diehard Jets fan. I hope they go all the way this year. I was cautiously optimistic earlier in the year but I’m starting to believe now.”

Winnipeg Jets fans take to the streets of downtown Winnipeg as they take part in the Jets Whiteout street party April 22, 2023. (Mike Sudoma/CityNews)

On Saturday night, there was disappointment in the air in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square where fans had gathered to watch their team’s playoff opener against the Boston Bruins. They lost 5-1 and will return to the ice on Monday.

Farther west, Aaron J. Harder, 44, from Vancouver said many Canadian hockey fans have underestimated the Canucks.

“A lot of the Canadian hockey fans didn’t understand how good the Canucks were,” he said. Until last year, “they just didn’t have the coaching to put it all together,” he argued.

Despite the strong showing of Canadian teams in the playoffs this year, Harder said the inter-team rivalry is muddling any sense of unified, national pride at the achievement.

“I think most hockey fans aren’t Canadian ‘Go Canada!’ They’ll go with their team, which is part of the problem,” he said. “They’re not really for Canada because there’s so much tribalism between the hockey fans.”