Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Montreal or Nothing at All

Our latest issue of The Economist (March 19-25) carries a full page colour ad featuring Calgary Flames president Brian Burke touting an executive hockey MBA. Only in Canada. The providing school is Athabasca University, a digital institution. MBAs are expensive degrees. If your dream job trajectory suggests a rink rat career, my next word will save you thousands of dollars in tuition: Win.

Rogers Media, a consistent contender for one of Canada’s most loathed corporations, is still having difficulty negotiating the hairpin track that is pro sports. Their baseball Blue Jays last year reinforced the value of a winning individual brand. This lesson is contrary to the company’s misguided strategy of overpaying for a national monopoly on broadcasting professional hockey to Canadians. The error was the mistaken assumption that the NHL’s black and silver shield wielded as much cachet as the crests on the sweaters of the seven Canadian teams (especially Toronto’s); that we would watch anything they fed us simply because it was branded NHL.

Easter has passed. The clocks sprung forward and the days are getting longer. Ann and I have crammed 10 gigantic bags with spring yard debris and the job’s only half done. She’s watering the tulips. So right about now Canadian hockey fans can expect some gauntlet wringing in the sports section: Whither the Stanley Cup and Canada? For me, it’s always been Montreal or nothing at all. Saturday night the New York Rangers ended the Canadiens’ season. The second period was particularly painful, my delicate wisp of faith dissipated, cigarette smoke in a windstorm. The Habs are done, no arithmetic in the world will get them into the playoffs; they are dead to me until next October.

A hockey season is like a newborn, so much hope and promise from the first (television) feed. Alas, so many things can go wrong with a soft machine over the course of a lifetime or a season. The Canadiens wrap up their dismal 2015-16 effort at home Saturday, April 9th against Tampa Bay. Ann and I will be in Montreal and she doesn’t care one way or another if we go to the meaningless match. For me it would be a chance to see the bleu, blanc, rouge, the best uniform in hockey, and maybe learn some of the names of a bunch of young players I’m unfamiliar with.

It’s priced as a premium game which means tickets cost more than they normally do, a tactic most clubs employ with higher profile visitors or for special dates. The pricing scale never slides backward for bottom-feeders even though fans should be properly compensated for having to endure the likes of Columbus or Buffalo, and a league-wide style of play guaranteed to keep bums rooted to arena seats. The greatest game on Earth is boring more often than not which makes following a losing team even tougher on the faithful.

And so top dollar for essentially a farm team roster, for an experience lived many times before and one that won’t even matter in the moment. Not cost-justified, as they say in business school. Perhaps I’ll settle for a Habs hat or t-shirt because summer’s coming and there are plans afoot for an outdoor hockey tournament here in Edmonton - on our backyard patio with my ancient Coleco NHL Power Play table hockey game once we’ve completed the yard work.

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