Saturday, January 24, 2009

Canadian Gentleman

I had the privilege of attending the East Coast Hockey League’s 2009 Hall of Fame Induction the other day. Not surprisingly, the crowd and the honorees were predominantly Canadian. The guest speaker, Flyers color commentator Steve Coates, noted that what separates hockey players from other professional athaletes, is that they are true gentlemen. As the presentation progressed I was struck by how often they referred to each other as gentleman. And not in the passing Ladies-and-gentleman way. They emphasized it and expounded on it. It became clear that it was a real point of pride within the hockey community to be considered a top notch gentleman.

I started to take notice of all they hockey players, coaches and owners in attendance. For one thing, they were all dressed well. They avoided the hyper-flashy trappings of football and basketball players but they looked at ease in a suit and tie. Despite all the scars, missing teeth and square jaws, they all had a very genteel way about them. They were all very friendly, courteous and well mannered. Yet they maintained a very strong man’s man quality. The overall vibe in the room is a little hard to translate. It seemed like it should have been teeming with testosterone and arrogance, but it was extremely civil and pleasant. Nobody was drinking, nobody swore, nobody even talked during lulls in the presentation. The best way to describe it would be to say it was as if a convention of alter boys had just been metaphysically transposed with a clan of Visigoth warriors.

As I thought more about it, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the hockey in them that made them such easy gentlemen. After all, it’s hard to disassociate hockey from fighting, between players and youth coaches. (and the occasional pit bull in lipstick.) So it must be the Canadian.

I started to draw to mind all the Canadian celebrities I could think of and it was one gentleman after another. Alex Trebek, Leonard Cohen, Paul Anka, Dan Aykroyd, Michael Cera, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Leslie Nielson, Donald Sutherland. Naturally, I could go on. But they all seem to have a certain quality that I can only attribute to their collective Canadianness. They all seem nice, proper, well mannered, mildly fashionable and pleasant. They do seem to lack a certain degree of coolness. But that really isn’t the mark of a gentleman. They’re not the type of guys you’d want to get drunk with exactly, but the kind of guys you’d like to go on a fishing trip with or even have take your wife out to a movie while you’re on a long business trip. Heck, even the Will Ferrell impersonation of Alex Trebek is a gentleman. They’re completely unflappable.

Canada must be the ideal breeding ground for gentlemen. Perhaps not the most debonair gentleman. Maybe a little on the goofy or outdoorsy side, but top notch gentlemen none the less ‘eh.

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