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MacLeod: Harper, Obama mix politics with sports

U.S. President Barack Obama poses during a ceremony honoring the 2013 National Hockey League Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks

LARRY DOWNING/Reuters

When not dealing with the tough, everyday realities of their day jobs, such as balancing the books and health care issues, politicians have been known to turn to the world of sports as a release from the daily pressures.

And so it was on Monday for Barack Obama where the beaming U.S. President welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House to recognize the National Hockey League club for its 2013 Stanley Cup championship.

It was the second time in three years that the Hawks have celebrated with the Stanley Cup at the U.S. capital. And the President, who grew up in Chicago, was clearly enjoying every minute.

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"Since I took office we've hosted a lot of championship teams, from Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Miami but since I've been president only one team has brought a world championship to my hometown of Chicago and now the Blackhawks have done it twice. Twice!" Obama said with a big smile.

Blissfully oblivious to an ongoing controversy about the use of racially insensitive nicknames by some teams in the world of sports, President Obama was pictured holding a Hawks' jersey with his name and the No. 13 on the back standing beside the Stanley Cup.

And the U.S. President could not resist issuing a bit of a challenge to Chicago's other pro teams to quickly follow the path of the hockey team.

"To the Bulls, Bears, Cubs, White Sox, I am term-limited, so you guys have to get moving," he is quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune. "I need to see you here soon. Championships belong in Chicago. So, to the Blackhawks, thank you for bringing it back home. Thanks for bringing the Stanley Cup."

Earlier in the day the Chicago hockey team shared the Cup with wounded soldiers receiving care at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where the patients obviously appreciated the diversion.

U.S Congressman Mike Quigley, who was among the visitors to the hospital along with the hockey team, was moved to call the Blackhawks "the classiest team in sports."

Back in Canada, Stephen Harper is getting a lot of attention for the publication of a book - not on his last seven years as the Prime Minister of Canada, but on hockey.

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"A Great Game" is a 320-page history on the early years of the sport and the hockey heroes and businessmen who were instrumental in developing the game.

As noted in the New York Times, Mr. Harper's hockey epic could also be seen "as an illustration of hockey's special place in the Canadian heart and mind…"

Ken Dryden is a former NHL goaltending great for the Montreal Canadiens who went on to become a MP in Ottawa.

He told the Times that while there is "deep connection" between hockey and Canadians, it is not the main defining feature common to the populace.

"Most Americans will assume that most Canadians are born with their skates on, and that there is a preoccupation with hockey that is unlike anything that anyone would experience themselves," Dryden said. "And I don't think that's right."

Of course, the publication of Mr. Harper's book on hockey has also opened up the politician to some blind side body checks.

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Scott Feschuck, writing in Macleans, asks if it is not a bit unusual for Mr. Haper to be publishing a book on hockey while in office?

"At minimum the book's release opens us to some serious ribbing down at the UN," Feschuck notes.

Governing Canada—now almost a full-time job.

The Globe's Robert MacLeod curates the best of sports on the web most weekday mornings.

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