On Don Cherry and Europeans in the CHL

Pig

Hockey talk. CHL banned European goalies back in 2013. It was meant to force Canadians to develop their own goalies instead of drafting talent from Europe. CHL still allowed two imports per CHL team, but those were limited only to forwards or defense men. I personally don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with the way Canada has been developing goalies, it’s just that we’re not giving them the chance to step up to the next level, and prior to 2013, teams have just been opting (safely but lazily) to draft European talent.

Don Cherry, a Canadian hockey legend, recently came out and said that he’s all out against Europeans playing in the CHL. He says that ultimately, despite the Canadian spirit of embracing foreigners and immigrants, each team has two spots that are leaving out Canadians, with their own dreams of making it big in the sport, in favor of Europeans. Now, I’m trying to understand the protectionist and conservative attitude that he’s taking, but some people’s reaction to his comment is bit overblown, in my opinion.

First off, racism and bigotry are heavy charges. So I would need more egregious evidence of this before I start calling Don Cherry names. I think Don just simply sees the CHL as a development tool for Canadian talent, a means to an end, and that we should be using that tool to develop our own talent, to reward our own. We shouldn’t be giving that opportunity, how little that may be, to players from other countries. Thus, the argument of “it’s just a game, let the best player play” doesn’t hold water when you’re trying to get the Canadian players to be the best. That is exactly the logic behind the CHL goalie ban. Canada wanted to develop its goalies. I believe Don Cherry’s comment was made in that spirit. I also don’t see connections between this protectionist attitude and Canada’s open-arms approach towards immigration. We welcome immigrants from all countries thinking that they’ll prosper and be wonderful Canadians. Everyone CAN be a Canadian. I’m not sure if Radim Salda who hails from Czech Republic and plays for the Saint John Sea Dogs would be applying for a Canadian citizenship anytime soon. That’s not what the Europeans are in the CHL for.

With this in mind however, if every other country started taking Don Cherry’s attitude, we won’t see Canadian players play anywhere else. As a compromise, I think the limit to two players per team is fine enough as it is. It allows Canada to develop talent where it needs to develop and brings in talent overseas without overcrowding the teams with foreigners. The CHL, much like any other sport with free agency, is still fans basically cheering for clothes. Not everyone from the Halifax Mooseheads hail from the province much less the city (I think there’s only one player from Halifax.).  It’s not a ridiculous situation where no one in the team is from the country they’re supposed to be representing as implied by their team name. I read some news yesterday about an eSports team, the London Spitfire, which despite having “London” in the name, is owned by a company in Los Angeles and 100% composed of Korean kids. Now, I don’t blame them for just having Korean kids. ESports is unavoidable here, and Korean kids happen to be the some of the best in the world. But the London Spitfire is obviously aimed solely at winning. It does not share the patriotic notions that Don Cherry has. It couldn’t care less about British kids playing videogames unless they’re better than Koreans.

Back to hockey. North and South Korea recently agreed to compete as one team for the women’s Olympic hockey competition. Now this is a good olive branch for both countries, especially after months of escalating tension stoked by Donald Trump. But a part of me can’t help but feel bad for half of the South Korean team who not only have been working hard to be part of the team, but they were bound to compete in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where South Korea, a country where hockey is not popular, is guaranteed a spot in the competition for being host. The Korean equivalent to Don Cherry must be going nuts.

I share Don Cherry’s sentiment. I feel bad for the Canadian kids left out in favor of foreign talent. Those are kids who will have to work harder, settle for other things, or just simply give up on the sport. But in the end, those are just two spots in big teams in a big league. They’re small sacrifices in the altars of inclusion and good hockey.

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