Virg Foss commentary: Passion, success unite UND, Canadian hockey
I used to think there were no fans anywhere as passionate about hockey as those who follow the UND Fighting Sioux. And on the collegiate level, I'd still argue that case is true. Not only do the Sioux attract sellout crowds pushing 12,000 for hom...
I used to think there were no fans anywhere as passionate about hockey as those who follow the UND Fighting Sioux.
And on the collegiate level, I'd still argue that case is true. Not only do the Sioux attract sellout crowds pushing 12,000 for home games, they're the No. 1 attraction on the road as well.
Considering Sioux hockey is the only sport in North Dakota that consistently competes for NCAA titles at the Division I level, the passion Sioux fans have for their team is understandable.
I think God gave us Sioux hockey to compensate for the winters we must suffer through in North Dakota.
Yet if you followed the World Junior Championship held in Buffalo, N.Y., and just won by Russia, you saw how Canada is absolutely bonkers over its World Junior teams.
The tourney in Buffalo drew more than 300,000 fans, most of them from Ontario. The line of cars coming out of Ontario and headed for Buffalo on days the Canadian team played stretched for miles.
Hockey is Canada's sport, of course. We in the United States have pro football, basketball, baseball, to split our loyalties.
In Canada? What else is there except hockey? Curling, the CFL and polar bears?
What amazes me is that Canadians are more passionate over their World Junior teams than they are when one of their NHL franchises play for the Stanley Cup.
Maybe it's because in the World Junior Championship, every Canadian player wearing the maple leaf is born and bred in Canada. On Stanley Cup rosters for teams like Montreal or Toronto, there are players from around the world.
So nothing stirs the passion of the Canadians more than their youngsters -- every single one of them a true Canadian -- playing for the gold medal in the World Junior. Canada's finest youth playing for their country in the sport Canada loves like no other.
I can only imagine the angst going on across Canada these days after Canada blew a 3-0 lead in the third period and lost the gold medal to Russia, 5-3.
That, coming after losing in overtime last year to the U.S. in the gold-medal game. Oh my, the pain.
They're calling Canada's loss to Russia the greatest collapse in hockey history, and maybe so. Or the greatest rally in hockey history, if you look at it from Russia's view. Somehow I think the answer is in the middle.
Those of us in the United States support our World Junior teams, too. We're proud of the gold medals won in 2004 and 2010 with Sioux players playing big roles.
But Canada's pride in hockey rests on the success of the World Junior teams like no other sport or team. "Junior hockey is woven into the fiber of Canada's culture in a very significant degree," said a writer covering the tournament for a Canadian publication.
So for Canada to go through two heart-stopping losses in the gold medal game in two consecutive years rips at the heart of the fans north of the border.
Canada is bitterly disappointed over settling for a silver medal. The U.S. is happy over winning its first medal (bronze) on U.S. soil. That's the difference in the approach of the two countries.
We in North Dakota can relate to that better than most. The same passion Canada has for its World Junior teams can be found throughout North Dakota and the region for Fighting Sioux hockey.
It's the one elite-level college sport we have in North Dakota. It's the one sport where North Dakota ranks with the nation's best, year in and year out, just like Canada is the power in world juniors.
So many of us here can understand the great anguish Canadian fans are feeling over the failure of the past two teams in the World Juniors.
Expectations are high yearly for the Fighting Sioux. The goal is an NCAA title. Anything less leaves us feeling empty, no matter how glorious the regular season.
Canada's dream died on the ice in Buffalo this week. The dream is alive and burning bright for Sioux fans, of an eighth NCAA title being won in St. Paul in April.
And so goes the cycle for Canada and Sioux fans, year after year.
Foss is a Hall of Fame journalist who reported on sports for 36 years for the Herald until his retirement. He writes a weekly column from October through April. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (701) 772-9272.