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Loyalties of Canadian hockey fans divided entering next round of NHL playoffs

Tough choices for hockey fans in Round 2

MONTREAL — With just two Canadian teams standing after the first round of the NHL playoffs, not everyone is rooting for a Stanley Cup final showdown between the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers.

Take Dan Fougere, for example.

The manager of Halifax’s Bubba Ray’s Sports Bar Too would like one-half of that matchup in the final â€” the Oilers.

From the Eastern Conference, however, Fougere is pulling for the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins — and a Sidney Crosby-Connor McDavid clash.

“I think that’s what a lot of people would love to see,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “If you somehow get those two facing off for the Stanley Cup final I don’t think it could get any better than that.”

Fougere has even changed the bar’s Facebook cover photo to include images of the two superstars.

Crosby is, of course, the local favourite, hailing from nearby Cole Harbour, while the 20-year-old McDavid has been one of Canada’s top talents since entering the league in 2015.

Not surprisingly, the Edmonton Journal’s editorial board has a firm opinion about where Canadian fans should direct their attention now.

“For so many reasons, the choice for the national team is obviously the Oilers,” the paper wrote Tuesday, the day before the team was scheduled to open second-round play against the Anaheim Ducks.

“The team is led by captain Connor McDavid, a homegrown superstar-in-the-making and at 20, already the league’s most exciting player. Unlike Sidney Crosby, who patriotic fans have obligingly supported over the last decade in some measure because of his citizenship, McDavid plays for a team on the right side of the border.

“Make no mistake. Ottawa is a fine team but its best player is Erik Karlsson — from Sweden.”

In Montreal, one of the three Canadian cities whose team was eliminated in the first round, the editor of a website dedicated to all things Canadiens says the locals aren’t feeling that great. 

“Passionate fans were devastated with the first-round loss,” said Rick Stephens. “Montreal finished first in their division, has a world-class goaltender in Carey Price and was generally expected to go further this season.

“The fans are angry. They are calling for big changes; there was talk of trading Carey Price. They want to win now.”

Montrealers will have to wait and, in the meantime, their choices for the playoffs aren’t obvious, Stephens said.

His readers have divided loyalties, he explained, and not necessarily between the two teams left.

“Ottawa is going to be a tough team for Canadiens fans to cheer for,” Stephens said. “There is a budding rivalry there. Not at the level of Boston or Toronto, but it’s getting there.”

Edmonton, he said, is more likely to be the Canadian team of choice for Habs fans.

“But we can’t forget that down in Nashville, there is a former Canadien there who still has the hearts of many fans, P.K. Subban,” who was traded in summer 2016.

The Predators swept their first-round series against the highly regarded Chicago Blackhawks and could be a formidable presence in the Western Conference.

In Toronto, the co-owner of a hockey website says the elimination of the Maple Leafs means “everyone switches and puts their baseball hat on but hockey is still front of mind.” 

Declan Kerin, co-owner of the Maple Leafs Hot Stove site, said some people like to stick to the Canadian teams, but many don’t care.”

“Most of the NHL players are Canadian anyway so they just want to watch hockey,” he added.

And despite the first-round loss, Kerin said, “it’s all positive.”

Since Brendan Shanahan was named president of the Maple Leafs after the 2013-14 season, “you’d be hard-pressed to say they’ve made a mistake since then,” he said.

“It doesn’t even feel like it’s the Maple Leafs (this year),” he said. “It feels like Detroit or Chicago or New Jersey of yesteryear.”

Back in Eastern Canada, Fougere said the traditional teams fans cheer for are Montreal and Toronto — and the latter is making a comeback.

“In the past, Toronto wasn’t having a great go, but now it’s getting more 50-50,” Fougere said, regarding the percentage of Habs-Leafs fans in his bar.

Fougere, a Toronto fan, said his adopted team is “exciting and young.”

“Montreal’s got some work to do I think,” he said.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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