Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Olympics preview part 3

Let that be a warning to you.

The NHLPA and the NHL made a big old whiny stink about Team Russia's insistence that they could change the roster up to February 16th. Basically the fuss was to protect the interests of the Canadian and US teams at the tournament. And right on cue, we see team Canada start to become very nervous about all its injured players.
Make no mistake: Team Canada is worried. Their chances of winning gold are not all that great, and you can imagine the scream that will be heard halfway across the continent should Don Cherry see his homeland come up short twice in one year. Imagine the further consternation should Canada fail to medal at all (another distinct possibility). "What happened to Canadian dominance?" "We invented this game!" "No fair!"

Both Russia and Canada admit that their rosters can be based largely upon the opposing team's players, and Canada needs all the edge it can get. So it seems that the stink the NHL and NHLPA is raising is a shallow attempt to get a leg up on what could very well be a superior Russian team.

Perhaps no nation in the world places so much pride in how well it plays a single sport as Canada does. Even the Brazilians understand that Germany has a damn good soccer team. Then again, none of the World Cup elites claim to have INVENTED soccer/football. Canadians desperately want their hockey team to win gold, and there are some extremely lofty expectations. True, the Canadian team is composed solely of NHL elite, but I'm not the only one who will tell you that the Canadian team is not head and shoulders above its competition; it may not even be the best team coming to Vancouver. This is the reality that many Canadians are simply not willing to face.

What we're seeing eerily reminds me of the complaint that a lot of Habs fans have had for years. They feel the team is OWED a championship, and that fairly regularly. The team was so awesome and feared in the past, it ought to be now, based solely on its historic reputation. Nevermind that you have to WORK for what you get, that championships are earned, not granted.

If you want to factor a team's history into how it's treated, go watch NCAA basketball. Even when UNC had horrendously bad teams, they could still count on a completely undeserved bid to the tournament.

Some folks follow the front-runner. Others get sick of dynasties. A subset of those folks is the ones who will always root for the underdog. In the last Olympiad, I cheered for three teams: Russia (homeland of my ancestors), USA (MY home country), and Finland (Exhibit A for underdogs; also, Saku Koivu's team). I also had money riding on Sweden winning the whole thing, which made the Gold medal game even more interesting.
I cheered, and my mother cried when the Unified Team won gold at the 1992 Olympics. It was an exceptional moment for a region that had experienced so much upheaval, and a moment of pride for my family.

I gave my soul to a Canadian hockey team, and I firmly believe that hockey belongs in Canada, not Florida. But Canadians also have to respect that other nations are damned good at the sport, and gold medals are not a birthright. They can want gold, but they'd better not be expecting it as a matter of course.

Perhaps my criticism is better directed towards Don Cherry and his overt racism*. I was expecting some apologist ranting after the US won the WJC, and he did not disappoint: "We COULDA won." "We're the BEST!"
I wonder what his explanation will be if Slovakia (this year's dark horse) wins gold in Vancouver. Did the Slovakians also learn to play the game as youths in the Canadian Junior leagues?

I'm ambivalent about the Canadian team. They have a good group of players, but they're not MY team, nor are they an underdog or compelling enough to get behind as an adopted team when the US is shown the door. If Canada wins gold, I can pretty much paraphrase Don Cherry's ebullient victory speech about how Canadians always have been and always will be the best hockey players in the world, how no one else plays the game right, and spouting the typical conservative claptrap that good old boys from the farm with good Christian values will always be victorious over communistic atheistic privileged Armani-wearing pasty-faced floating gutless fancy-schmancy Europeans.

It's hard to argue with Canada's statistical dominance: They have won eight gold medals and 15 medals overall in Olympic hockey. USA is a distant second with three gold, and 12 overall. But, as before, past performance is no guarantee of future success. Just ask the Habs.

*A word on racism: My understanding of it is it's when a person makes some distinction based on how another group of people looks, speaks, or (allegedly) behaves. What makes Don Cherry's racism so unique is its particularly broad scope. Very few people actually qualify as the type of person Don would ever associate with. In order to be worthy, you must: A) be born in Canada, A1) Quebec does not count, B) not solely rely on agility (ie, preferably be on a checking line, though goal-scoring is allowed in certain c circumstances), and C) preferably be of Irish descent.
I would love to remind Don how in a not-so-distant past, he would have been treated to "Irish need not apply" signs.


Number31 said...

The Olympic cockiness is driving me up the wall. Only sport in the Olympics that I love is Snowboard Cross. It's like a downhill roller derby!

Capt. Sparrow said...

I loved Olympic hockey until they turned to what basketball started with putting "Dream Teams" together. I personally LOVE watching curling, I make sure I DVR it!!!

Does anyone actually think that US has a legit shot at a medal? Someone forgot to tell Brian Burke that you do not rebuild Olympic teams like you do nhl teams.

Habsfan1993 said...

Aside from the hockey, I enjoy the curling too, and the speed skating. I don't like the short-track though.

And no, I'm fairly confident the US has no shot at gold, and only a slim one at bronze. More on predictions later...

Number31 said...

The Dream Teams ruined it. Bring back the college kids! The dentist who's a goalie! The garbageman defenseman!

Maybe someone should salary cap the Olympic teams?