Who to cheer for?

Bob Wakeham
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A growing number of Newfoundlanders in the NHL, a half a dozen at last count, has put my parents in a quandary.

Having lived in the Philadelphia area since the mid-60s, my mother and father — Gerry and Eileen to their friends, natives of St. John’s and Grand Falls, respectively — are dedicated Flyer fans who treat a televised hockey game involving their favourites as mandatory viewing.

In fact, when Mom and Dad were slightly younger (only slightly, mind you), and had an active social life, whipping down to Atlantic City on a regular basis, for example, to play blackjack, they would always tape the Flyer games, often watching the recording at two or three in the morning when they returned home, their energy having no bounds.                           

But the schedule of Flyer games scotch-taped prominently on the refrigerator door has some company these days: a unique poster designed by my brother as a Christmas present to the old folks, a creative arrangement of colour photographs of the six Newfoundlanders now in the NHL, their hometowns prominently displayed, the images superimposed over the map of Newfoundland and the province’s coat of arms.

My parents’ house in southern New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is a dwelling blanketed in Newfoundlandia, as you might imagine, given the passion they have for the place they still call “home” almost 50 years after they reluctantly left for the U.S. Everywhere within eyesight is an eclectic assortment of icons: a gorgeous framed snapshot of St. John’s at night; a silk screen depiction of a fishing community; an enlarged picture of a seal pup; a small library containing only books written by, or about, Newfoundlanders; a Dominion Ale sign; a black and white photograph of my grandfather with the Newfoundland Regiment in France; the words of the Ode to Newfoundland mounted onto an impressive mat. And lots more, wall to wall reminders of the smiling land my parents have loved from afar. 

But the newest addition to the Newfoundland gallery, this tangible illustration of Newfoundland success in the NHL, is the first image from here that’s created a conflict of the heart.   

They’ve always wanted a quick and easy reminder of which Newfoundlanders are where in the NHL. And now there it is, in full colour.

But it’s put them in a pickle.

What are they to do when Teddy Purcell of the Lightning or Michael Ryder of the hated Bruins is heading across the blueline towards the Flyer goal? How can they possibly boo the Red Wings when Danny Cleary, the first Newfoundlander to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, is one of that team’s best players?

And, now, where do their allegiances lie when the Flyers play the Ottawa Senators with Colin Greening in the line-up?

After all, Mom and Dad will eagerly boast they met Colin as a young man several years ago in St. John’s during the very week he was drafted to play in the pros. (My parents were impressed by his modesty and manners, especially when he referred to me as “Mister” Wakeham, a remnant of the scattered day he hung out as a tyke at the CBC Station where his father Fred and I were losing a fair amount of our sanity producing “Here and Now.”  

It might sound like corn-ball romanticism to some (political scientists at Memorial and the like), but the fact that my parents are glued to their television screens down in southern New Jersey, a long way from “home,” trying to spot a player who happens to be a fellow native of Newfoundland, provides a sense of joy for them that can’t be measured.  

That poster in my parents’ home of the “Newfoundland Six” also symbolizes just how far this province has come on the NHL stage since a time when many of us would squint at fuzzy, black and white images of Hockey Night in Canada, trying to catch a glimpse of Alex Faulkner.

Delightfully, hockey players — and athletes generally — from Newfoundland are joining the ranks of writers, artists, musicians and countless others in a variety of professions making a significant mark here and abroad. 

But back to my parents and their dilemma: I believe Mom and Dad will be cheering for Colin Greening to score a hat trick the next time the Senators and the Flyers are competing, just as long as Philadelphia wins the game 4-3. 

Flyers win!

Newf scores three goals!

The best of both worlds for Gerry and Eileen.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: NHL, Red Wings, Ottawa Senators CBC Station

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Philadelphia, Grand Falls New Jersey Atlantic City Delaware River Newfoundlandia U.S. France Canada

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