Don Cherry is known for being an outspoken advocate of Ontario hockey players, a stance which led to a well known feud with Brian Burke. The truth is Ontario does provide far and away the most players at the NHL level, but the questions still remains whether Ontario could actually put a team on the ice that would beat the other provinces? Even better, what would a provincial tournament look like?
There is some precedent for provincial matchups in professional sports, most notably Australia’s Rugby League which pits New South Wales (where Sydney is) and Queensland (where Brisbane is) against each other in an annual three game set. The games have become so popular they are considered more prestigious than both the club and international formats of the game.
In hockey, provincial level games seem more at home as part of a junior development pathway than as a part of the professional landscape. I’m not suggesting this is a feasible idea in today’s television-ruled, insurance-impeded professional hockey world, but it is a tantalizing prospect that.at its very worst is something cool to play out on PlayStation (which I may try).
The frenzy that a Canadian Provincial Cup would cause (think ticket sales, TV ratings and sponsorship opportunities) would be enormous for a 2-week, Memorial Cup-style round robin. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba make up the six provinces who theoretically have enough active NHL players to put a competitive team on the ice. That leaves us with an immediate dilemma as to what to do with Atlantic Canada. Excluding the alliance of Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador would preclude star players like Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Richards, however even with an alliance the team wouldn’t quite have enough NHL calibre players to compete. So, at least for now, let’s shelve that idea.
What we can do though, just for a second, is imagine Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith in Manitoba yellow instead of Blackhawk red, Ryan Getzlaf and Jordan Eberle on Saskatchewan’s top line, Carey Price and Shea Weber locking down the final third for BC. It’s a mouthwatering prospect for any Canadian and draws new battle lines directly in between club allegiances and country.
For the sake of ease of selection I’m working with QuantHockey.com’s breakdown of where NHL players were born as opposed to Hockey Canada’s determination of each player’s home town. This ruling primarily impacts Ontario with Patrick Sharp (born in Manitoba) and Taylor Hall (born in Alberta) unavailable for selection.
Disclaimer: Below are a speculative collections of nine forwards, four defensemen, two goalies and a coach. While there may be better line combinations, these lines are specifically put together for marketing (read excitement) purposes.
Stamkos – Tavares – Nash
Neal – E. Staal – Perry
Moulson – Giroux – J. Carter
Pietrangelo – Subban
Boyle – M. Staal
M. Smith – Emery
Coach: Joel Quenneville
Summary: Ontario has similar problems to Team Canada; too many centres, not enough wingers and suspect goalkeeping. The top line is an obvious one and doesn’t require any explanation with Stamkos, Tavares and Nash combining for 78 goals in the lockout shortened season. The two defensive pairings are solid and can add offense. After that it felt somewhat like throwing the cards up in the air and seeing where they land. Some of the to fill the remaining spots: Couture, Duchene, J. Thornton, Gagner, Cammalleri, Seguin, M. Richards, J. Staal, Doughty, Burns, Girardi, Hamilton, Bieksa, Methot, Del Zotto.
M. St. Louis – Lecavalier – Pominville
P. Dupuis – Bergeron – Parenteau
Perron – Huberdeau – Burrows
Letang – Despres
Beauchemin – Robidas
Crawford – Luongo
Coach: Alain Vigneault
Summary: Quebec, ironically, has the exact opposite concerns as Ontario – not enough centres, too many wingers, lack of defensive depth and outstanding goalkeeping. This, though, is a solid team that could challenge for the Cup with its understated offensive power. Some to fill the remaining spots: Ribeiro, Brassard, Desharnais, Tanguay, Briere, Gagne, Talbot, Lapierre, Vlasic, M.A. Bergeron. How long before Patrick Roy appoints himself the coach?
T. Hall – Little – Lupul
Doan – Letestu – Iginla
Gallagher – Brodziak – Setoguchi
Phaneuf – C. Phillips
Bouwmeester – M. Green
Scrivens – Irving
Coach: Darryl Sutter
Summary: Alberta has some aging talent that would have made them dynamite ten years ago with Shane Doan, Jerome Iginla, Ray Whitney, Sheldon Souray and Ryan Smyth. Now the team contains sprinkles of both with Taylor Hall and Brendan Gallagher rubbing shoulders with the aging veterans. Goalkeeping is a worry but defensive depth is quite strong with the likes of Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Mark Fistric, Braydon Coburn and Jared Spurgeon not currently named. This format suits Coach Sutter to a tee.
Ladd – Benn – Lucic
E. Kane – Turris – Brouwer
B. Connelly – Nugent-Hopkins – Kobasew
Weber – Seabrook
Franson – J. Schultz
Price – LaBarbera
Coach: Jon Cooper
Summary: BC’s top end is quite outstanding when you consider the starting six players on the ice could be Ladd, Benn, Lucic, Weber, Seabrook and Price. From there, though, it drops off significantly as depth becomes an issue. With everyone healthy, this would be a spirited team that would probably lack enough secondary scoring to challenge.
Marleau – Getzlaf – Eberle
Kunitz – Bozak – Hartnell
Morrow – Gordon – Glencross
L. Schenn – N. Schultz
Redden – Cowen
Holtby – Dubnyk
Coach: Todd McLellan
Summary: With time to mesh this team could actually be quite dangerous. There are seven forwards with ten-plus goals last season and some dire defensive players in the top four. In between the pipes the combination of Holtby and Dubnyk is young, but both have shown the ability to stand on their heads to snatch games. Can Coach McLellan take a team all the way?
Penner – Toews – Sharp
Calvert – Zajac – Fehr
Howden – Eakin – Stone
Keith – Hamonic
Rome – I. White
Reimer – N/A
Coach: Barry Trotz
Summary: How do you rule out any team with Jonathan Toews in it? Captain Serious would need to enlist his Blackhawk teammates Sharp and Keith to get this done. Howden and Eakin were teammates at World Juniors in 2011 and Howden and Stone were together in 2012, hence the connection on the third line.
Canadian fans obsess over the NHL trade deadline, free agent frenzy and the Olympic team selection because of the the inherent interest in seeing new combinations of players and trying to speculate over how they will play together. This type of tournament would provide that same stimulation but on steroids. Battle lines would be drawn along provincial lines and long-time NHL rivals would suddenly be thrown together to represent a common cause.
Can players take their games to another level when provincial pride is on the line? Would Don Cherry’s insinuation that Ontario players are superior prove to be true, or would he come out looking like a buffoon? On the face of it, Ontario have all the big names, but as we know that doesn’t always guarantee success. How can we finally settle this argument? There may be only one way; I’ll report back with the results once I’ve played the games on PlayStation.