When LA winger Dustin Brown’s name hit the rumour mill, all eyes were raised toward Brian Burke.
Brown seems perfect. He hits, he scores, he plays bigger than his six-feet.
Most important, he’s from Ithaca, New York.
Buffalo-born and bred Jim Kelley remains a towering figure in hockey journalism, a business that has yet to produce a successor for a reporter who filed a story on his last day on earth, Nov 30, 2010.
He loved Canadians and this country but sometimes shuddered at our provincialism.
“Hockey is Canada’s gift to the world,” he used to say and then he would decry the stupid slurs the threatened always direct toward those who make them feel insecure.
They are lazy. They are selfish. They are unfriendly. They advance each other at the expense of the most deserving. If you can ascribe a handful of these faults to one group of people, odds are you are walking down the same road from which my friend warned me away.
There are seven American head coaches in the NHL. Toronto is home to one of them, Ron Wilson.
There are eight American General Managers in the NHL. Toronto is home to one of them, Brian Burke.
What could be wrong with that?
The percentage of US-born players in the league in 2003 was 14.3 per cent. Eight years later, that figure has jumped to 21.5 per cent. The number of American players in the league has risen by 94, the equivalent of two full teams in that period. Based on those numbers, the percentage of coaches and general managers of American birthright is in line with the rate of U.S. born players.
Jim was right. Hockey really is Canada’s gift to the world but we aren’t altogether comfortable with who unwraps our present. First it was the Chicken Swedes. Then the godless, automated Russians whose only motivation was money. Nevermind the fearless Borje Salming and the lion-hearted Dmitry Yushkevich and Danny Markov who patrolled the Leafs’ blue line.
Americans are the new Russians. Whenever someone mentions a ‘Brian Burke’ type player, the first thing they mention is truculence. The player’s birth certificate is a close second.
In a country that venerates Don Cherry, we cluck our tongues at the brash Brian Burke and the sometimes taciturn Ron Wilson.
We look at birth certificates before stat sheets. When the Leafs are linked to Rick Nash, no one dismisses the idea because he is from Brampton. We roll our eyes knowingly when someone mentions Dustin Brown or Ryan Miller.
I’d like to see the Leafs do well. The job is much more fun and the city takes on the feeling of a small town when the playoffs hit town. For selfish reasons, I’m hoping it comes this year.
The trade deadline clicks in Monday. I have one hope. Honestly, can we lose this whole American/Canadian, us-versus-them angle.
Dean Lombardi, born in the US, once told me he didn’t care what was on a player’s birth certificate. “Give me the guy who hated to lose in jacks,” he said.