If we’re ranking the worst performances of “O Canada” ever performed in the United States, what John deCausmeaker did Thursday night in St. Paul isn’t at the top of the list.
That honor would fall comfortably to lounge singer Dennis Casey Park, who succeeded turns the Canadian national anthem into a version of “O Christmas Tree” before a CFL game in Las Vegas in 1994.
In deCausmeaker’s case, he simply got the lyrics wrong and repeated the phrase “far and wide” twice in the span of 10 seconds before the Wild-Flames game at the Xcel Energy Center.
Tonight we will have a failed anthem in Minnesota 😂 pic.twitter.com/PZ8BFzMiBV
— Robert Munnich (@RingOfFireCGY) December 15, 2023
What’s notable is that deCausmeaker’s rendition wasn’t even the worst performance of the Canadian anthem in an NHL game this week. That distinction goes to Sholanty Taylor’s version of “O Canada” on Monday at the UBS Arena on Long Island.
Taylor’s sped-up, sloppy 59-second version of “O Canada” before the Maple Leafs-Islanders game was deplorable at best.
Offensive at worst.
— Steve Woolridge (@CoachWooly) December 12, 2023
And these two anthem abominations continue a trend we’ve seen on multiple occasions in 2023.
In March, Ryan Michael James I suddenly forgot the words to the Canadian anthem mid-singing before a Maple Leafs-Panthers game in Sunrise, Florida, James later admitted to a Toronto radio station that was struggling to learn the lyrics to “O Canada” two hours before his performance, as he was a last-minute replacement.
In November, Buffalo anthem singer Christian Kramer got the lyrics of “O Canada” wrong halfway through the hymn.
At one point Kramer sang, “O Canada, let us lift up our eyes.”
So, after four botched Canadian anthems at NHL games in 2023, it’s time to question the practice of performing anthems before every single sporting event in North America.
Maybe it’s time to reserve the anthem for the games and moments that really matter.
The first documented instance of an anthem being played before a sporting event dates back to May 1862, when “The Star Spangled Banner” was played before a baseball game in Brooklyn, New York. several decades, with the national anthem played before significant sporting events such as the World Series.
Playing the anthem then gained traction during World War II.
As North American professional sports leagues continued to play during conflict abroad, teams began playing the national anthem as a symbol of wartime support and patriotism. Once the Second World War ended, NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden he firmly believed that the tradition should continue.
“The playing of the national anthem should be as much a part of every game as the kickoff,” Layden said. “We must not abandon it simply because the war is over. “We should never forget what it represents.”
NHL clubs have mandated the the home team would honor their country before the 1946 games. About a decade later, both “O Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner” were played before NHL games, regardless of where the game was staged.
However, in 1969, Canadian resistance to American involvement in the Vietnam War opened the door for the NHL to allow the Maple Leafs and Canadiens to play only “O Canada” before home games, choosing to skip the “Star Spangled Banner” . A vintage CBC broadcast shows a game between Toronto and Boston from Maple Leaf Gardens in November 1970, in which only an instrumental version of “O Canada” is played before the game. The same thing happens a few weeks later in a game between the Bruins and Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.
But in 1987, the NHL had made it mandatory that both anthems be played in games involving a Canadian team against an American opponent. Both the Canadian and American anthems are played in Buffalo, regardless of the Sabres’ opponent.
This is a typically North American phenomenon.
In Europe, national anthems are reserved for major international competitions or when an urgent or important national situation arises.
Earlier this year, for example, the Premier League asked its clubs to play the UK national anthem before matches to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III.
When national anthems are played infrequently and reserved for special occasions – as is the case in other parts of the world – they carry more weight and meaning.
In North America, we have diluted the tradition to the point that hymns are played thousands of times each year, creating embarrassing and disrespectful moments like the ones described above.
The national anthem should be played sparingly and reserved for moments that evoke genuine feelings of national pride.
In 2014, all of Canada was shaken by the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, killed by a gunman at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Days later, fans in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa they sang the national anthem at the same time in a coordinated show of national unity. It was touching, genuine and profound.
That same week in 2014, the The Pittsburgh Penguins played “O Canada” before a game against the Philadelphia Flyers in a show of solidarity with their neighbors to the north.
And we should never lose the ability to experience these touching moments.
But when you bring in hymn singers who don’t even know the lyrics so you can hit the quota of 82 games a year, the whole practice feels disingenuous and performative.
Save the playing of the National Anthem for Opening Night, Stanley Cup Playoff home games, international competitions (whenever we return to the best-on-best format), and special occasions when warranted.
The best and most emotional rendition of a national anthem before an NHL event probably took place in January 1991. Against the backdrop of the Gulf War, Wayne Messmer sang “The Star Spangled Banner” to a raucous crowd at Chicago Stadium before the ‘event. NHL All-Star Game. It was a goosebumps moment.
Whitney Houston’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” the week after the Super Bowl might be the greatest anthem performance of all time.
Those moments felt genuine, emotional and powerful. It was a confluence of world events and great sporting moments.
That same magic simply won’t exist when the Florida Panthers visit Edmonton this weekend. Or when the Canucks are in Chicago. In such cases, the performance of the national anthem becomes serious and monotonous. And it’s almost an invitation for something to go wrong.
In 2021, Dallas Mavericks fans and media played 13 games before realizing that the club had stopped playing the national anthem before home games. It was tangible proof that anthems are not as intrinsically intertwined in North American sports as we might think.
So would hockey fans really notice – or care – if NHL teams followed the same full-time approach in the future?
(Photo of Sholanty Taylor singing the US national anthem before a New York Islanders game earlier this month: Jay Anderson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)