Wearing the Flag On Our Sleeve
SASKATOON—It's been peculiar, 20 years later, being in this town again.
I haven't been to Saskatoon since the 1989 Memorial Cup when the arena – then SaskPlace – was sparkling new. The Swift Current Broncos won the title over the host Blades, a year when the Peterborough Petes represented the OHL and saw their hopes dashed when star centre Mike Ricci came down with chicken pox, of all things.
The year before, of course, Canada had hosted the Winter Olympics in Calgary, but for me, living in Toronto, there wasn't as vibrant a sense that this was a Canadian event, at least not that I remember. It seemed to be Calgary's show as much as the country's.
Two decades later, it's a different vibe, and maybe being back in Saskatoon is part of it.
While I've suggested having the world junior championships in Canada so often perhaps isn't a great thing for the tournament, this event has clearly been a jumping off point for Canadian sports patriotism heading towards the Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver next month. The crowd of more than 16,000 that cheered the national women's team on in Ottawa last night certainly suggested the same thing.
Having the Canadian men's Olympic team announced at WorldFest here certainly added to the growing sense that our country of 32 million is start to rev up for what lies ahead. It's as though these world juniors represent the warmup act, with the bigger show still to come.
It's been incredible to see all the Hockey Canada gear worn to Team Canada's games at these world junior championships. Canadian hockey jerseys are everywhere, as are flags, and even flags you can wear. A colorful new style of garb called Flagwear (www.flagwear.ca), a Canadian flag that can be worn as a poncho, has appeared here for the first time, not at bad thing to have in a frigid environment where every layer counts.
Pepsi has been pushing its new pro-Canada cheer at every game. The Canadian Olympic Commitee's “Paint The Town Red” campaign is just getting rolling, a natural follow in many communities after having hosted a piece of the Olympic torch relay.
Twenty years later, Saskatoon seems much the same, but in a warm, reassuring way. Canada, of course, has changed drastically, and you get the feeling that for the first time since perhaps the 1972 Summit Series, these Olympics are going to be a sporting event that the entire country truly gets behind.
Maybe I'm wrong. But whether its people wearing flags or gathering in the streets to watch the torch go by, or even the way in which fans at the Credit Union Centre roared Canada on to its comeback victory against the U.S on New Year's Eve, there's an enormous sense of national expectation and enthusiasm building.
Kinda cool, actually.