There is no one day in which ignorance and stupidity fade from the mainstream and becomes the sole property of the ignorant and the stupid.
But if you look back from the high ground you can see how far the question has come.
For the first time, two European players have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the same glittering year. One of which, of course, is the superb Maple Leaf Mats Sundin, cheek to jowl with Pavel Bure, Joe Sakic and Adam Oates in the Class of 2012.
There is no point in reckoning how great Sundin and Bure would have been considered had they been born in Moose Jaw or Brandon. They are Hall of Famers, members of one of the great classes that can stand with 1983 (Ken Dryden, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita) 1984 (Phil Esposito, Jacques Lemaire, Bernie Parent) or 2009 (Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman).
There will be more soon: Dominik Hasek, Nik Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Sergei Fedorov, Teemu Selanne.
The common thread between Sundin and Bure is Pat Quinn, who shepherded Bure when he arrived in Vancouver as a Russian defector in 1991 and then oversaw Sundin’s evolution into superstardom and two final-four appearances. Quinn never endured a losing season over seven Leaf campaigns.
The first European to win admittance to the Hall was Borje Salming in 1996. Sundin was the first European drafted first overall and the Leafs first and only European captain. The European revolution is, for most, still within memory even if the birth certificate has been retired as a factor in determining greatness.
“Maybe we would have wondered 30 years ago, 20 years ago. Not today,” Quinn said. “They’re accepted for their talent.
“Let’s face it; we do have a redneck mentality on occasion and a possessive approach to our game. It always be our game in terms of our feelings about it but others can play it and play it pretty well.”
In a game brought to a standstill by lawyers and negotiations, the back story becomes the big story. How far have we come from a time when a Swedish player was instinctively considered to be lacking the necessary backbone and when every Russian trailed the word enigma around like an invisible anvil.
Sundin said Quinn’s gift to him was the demand that all the outside noise be left there.
“Pat taught you that you were responsible to yourself for your performance,” Sundin said. “Don’t look at someone else to go out and get the job done. I really took that to heart. He helped me understand that no matter what was going on outside, it was up to you to determine your performance.”
For Quinn, for most, what mattered was the talent.
“When you become a member of the herd you don’t distinguish yourself in any way. Both those players have gifts: Pavel with his flair on the ice and his motivation to be the best. Mats was about consistency and performance and personal high standards. Those were the hallmarks of those guys. If they were members of the herd, we wouldn’t’ know who they were. To rise up was their obligation to themselves.”