Canada’s game – hockey, of course. Being a Canadian, I’m naturally obsessive over our national sport and I do not hesitate to display pride when our teams perform and reach the top of the international world stage. I cheer, celebrate, do my share of chest thumping, and have teary eyes when hearing the national anthem played.
Today, confusingly enough, after Canada, in heart-breaking fashion, lost 5-4 in overtime against Russia in the World Hockey Championships, I also cheered and had teary eyes while listening to the Russian anthem. No, these were not tears of pain and disappointment, but genuine emotions of being touched by the artistry, determination, and resiliency shown by the Russians playing for their own respective country.
No, this does not mean I am suddenly turning unpatriotic. I just think that there can be a blessing in disguise, or a silver lining in the cloud, in moments such as these. In Canada, we have been spoiled for so long with great hockey teams, and fans often take for granted our supposed entitled position at the top. Today we saw them battle a Russian team who were more aggressive, confident, and played with a bit more desperation than the Canadians did. Often we are so focused on every move of the home team, what we did right or wrong, it’s sometimes good to consider the strengths of our opponents and how they wear their country’s hopes on their hearts with just as much intensity.
In previous years, when immersed in Canadian celebrations, it was easy to only see the Canadian perspective, especially through winners’ eyes. Today was an opportunity to see how a victory of this magnitude influences a different part of the world and show us another side of our opponents. Russian hockey players are often stereotyped in our media as highly skilled players, playing their unique puck possession game with almost machine-like precision, but lacking in enthusiasm, grit, and passion. Today, however, we saw those latter attributes in abundance and it’s a valuable reminder that we should not underestimate these qualities in others. It was an eye-opener to see the Russians dancing in child-like joy after their victory, singing songs and chanting in their language, and what victory means for their country.
For the Canadian team, from a hockey standpoint, perhaps this experience is good timing in preparation for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Today they got a close-hand look at how their sense of emotional urgency was equaled or surpassed by the Russians, and that this will increase tenfold at the Olympics by many teams wanting to hear their national anthems played at the end of games.
For me personally, I wrote and reflected on the game because I was trying to better understand why I was still cheering even though the team I was cheering for lost? Though I am not Russian, why did their anthem move me to tears of joy? These are the kind of questions that really enhance the experience of being a sports fan for me.