Like many of my fellow Canadians, I grew up in a sporting culture dominated by hockey — specifically, the National Hockey League. Because of its dominance in the Canadian sports scene, we tend to filter how we see other sports through a hockey lens.
So, basketball isn’t tough enough because it’s filled with ticky-tack fouls; shouldn’t refs know to let that kind of stuff go, especially in big games? Why are baseball fights so comical — after all, they don’t actually fight. A Brit once told me that he had no idea that Canadians were the most bloodthirsty sports fans in the world till he came to this country and, well, watched sports in our midst. I don’t know if that’s true; it’s certainly not dangerous to go to a Canadian sporting event. But, are we more conditioned to want players to “get back in there” despite the broken bone? Are Canadians more likely to accept the referee who puts the whistle in his pocket when the championship is on the line?
But, maybe the most important “lesson” hockey teaches us is that a team is judged by how well it does in the playoffs, not how well it does in the regular season. Teams that often win a lot in the regular season after regular season but don’t replicate that, ahem, success in the playoffs are discarded from our consciousness. No one, absolutely no one, gives a hoot about who wins the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the regular season. Hockey teams refuse to even touch the trophies handed out to the Eastern and Western Conference champions, because it’s totally bad form to celebrate the smaller trophies when the Stanley Cup is out there waiting to be claimed.
While most of our hockey culture doesn’t translate well to other North American leagues, the playoffs-or-bust mentality of the NHL is a lesson that Major League Soccer fans need to learn.
Once again, we know that the winner of the Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season mark in MLS, will not hoist the big prize at the end of the season. The Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew will fight it out for MLS Cup this coming weekend. Neither finished at the top of their respective conferences.
MLS is a league that’s all about the playoffs; it’s a culture where the Supporters Shield winner has only won the big prize, the MLS Cup, twice since 2003. Playoffs see a complete reshuffling of the deck.
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