Should the Canucks win one of the next two games, they'll partake in one of the greatest traditions in pro sports: spending time with the Stanley Cup. But will they, or the Cup, receive the White House invite that's standard for championship teams? More to the point, would an American President honor a Canadian team? It's a question loaded with nationalist questions, and one worth exploring.
The most obvious precedent would be the 1992 Blue Jays, the first Canadian team to win at the other country's pastime. Indeed they were invited to the White House by the first President Bush, in his last month in office. But what does it mean to be a "Canadian team?" Bush noted that he had seen Jack Morris the year before, visiting with his champion Twins. Setting aside whether players have loyalty to their current team's city, do they identify with their temporary city-state?
There are more Americans on the Vancouver Canucks than there are on the Bruins. There are more Canadians on the Bruins than on the Canucks. The Canucks already own the Presidents' Trophy. (I know, that's not what it's named for.)
And while the Thomas-Luongo pairing and Vancouver setting have echoes of the unrestrained patriotism of the last Olympics, who decided that a professional franchise can even represent a country? Comcast has been pushing this as a Canada vs. US proxy war, but no one seems to have told the citizens. Regional and historic rivalries run far deeper in the NHL than any association with nationhood, and those old grudges aren't being set aside. Not even for the first potential Canadian Stanley Cup since 1993 (not incidentally, those Habs were the last championship team without European players on the roster.)
Reflexive Boston hate is keeping Americans from pulling for the Bruins. Flames fans have adopted an "anybody but the Canucks" mentality since the beginning of the playoffs, and that hasn't changed despite an American team being the only alternative. And there are some weird Canadian geopolitical currents isolating Vancouver that I don't fully understand. I only know Toronto and Montral fans won't see a Canucks victory as a victory for them all.
But certainly a victorious Canucks would have to go somewhere, to some seat of power. Since 1925 baseball champions have been visiting the White House, but only recently has the tradition spread to hockey. The 1991 Penguins were the first Stanley Cup winners to receive a presidential invite, but it was not an annual fixture yet. The 1993 Canadiens did not go to Washington, nor did a number of subsequent champions during the Clinton administration.
In Obama's first year in office, he had the Penguins back, and last year he invited his Blackhawks. So he's clearly committed to honoring Stanley Cup champions, even if he hasn't yet attended a single Capitals game. But would his even be the ultimate invite?
The NHL is a North American league, in the sense that they have offices in two countries and conduct business regularly in both. It's not hard to imagine the Presidential invite being a Ministerial one, the Canucks being greeted by Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill or at the PM's Residence in Ottawa. Just don't expect Sens fans to throw them a party.
We contacted the Canucks to ask them whether they expect/prefer one destination over the other. Partly to avoid causing an international incident, but mostly because the front office believes in jinxes, they said in no uncertain terms that they "would not discuss a White House/Parliament visit before the series was over." We can't blame them. It's a dumb little question, that some government in some capital is going to have to make a decision on soon.