Olympic Hockey To Remember — and Perpetuate

Just how good was hockey in Vancouver’s Olympics, and what should the future of the Games hold in terms of the NHL’s participation? We share our post-Olympics thoughts.

Andrew

For the U.S., these Olympics were anything but a failure — across the board and most particularly in hockey. Not only did the Yanks push the gold medal game into overtime after battling back from a two-goal deficit on the host’s home sheet, but they won a medal in a Games in which hardly anyone figured they could. This was supposed to be a “rebuilding” Games for the  U.S., a silver medal perhaps plausible in four years’ time in Sochi. The youngest team in the tournament almost shocked the team that wasn’t supposed to lose. Even with the loss, screaming at the top of my lungs was some of the most fun I have had on a Sunday in a long time.

As for the NHL in the Olympics: Having NHL players in the Olympics is something that should never end. Not only is there nothing but pure excitement in the Olympics when the world’s best hockey players are competing, but often it was NHL stars like Ryan Miller, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane who were taking over important portions of games. Losing NHL talent in the Olympics would be a massive marketing mistake. To be on Twitter early Sunday afternoon and to read all the hosanas hockey in this tournament generated was to realize that no other event could brand hockey quite like the Olympics can.

Alexander

It had to be Sidney Crosby who delivered for the red-clad Maple Leaf and their 30 million supporters in the gold medal game on the closing day of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Watching this tournament and the inspired play from so many nations at the Games cemented my firm belief that a hockey game can be won by virtually any team. I hate to recognize it as my prediction, but I honestly believe no. 87 will be the most successful NHL player in any competition over the next 15 years — even moreso than Alex Ovechkin.

One learns over time to recognize key characteristics and attributes of players. Chris Drury will always be seen as a clutch player. Nicklas Lidstrom will always be remembered for having phenomenal plus/minus ratings. Crosby has the total package of speed, puck-possession brilliance, and a clinical finish at opportune moments — even if that five-hole OT winner came after almost two periods of Canada sitting on their lead and playing mind-numbingly boring hockey to the equivalence of Italian soccer. Team Canada shrugged off 2006 and squeezed out triumph on home ice in 2010. Credit Zach Parise, one of the most underrated talents in the NHL, for scoring to tie the game with 25 seconds to go in regulation, and Ron Wilson for managing one of the youngest teams at the tournament to the silver podium. It’s too bad gold isn’t judged on effort, because Team USA would be recognized as the best team in the world right now. Ron Wilson said as much Sunday evening: The Americans were the best team at the tournament bar none.

2014 better be a different story for Team Russia, and hopefully for Team USA. Although Gary Bettman’s bureaucratic nonsense will last another couple of years until the new CBA is signed, I, like many of you, believe NHLers will be present at Sochi with the sanctioning of the owners. I love the Winter Olympics, but to be fair to Bettman, I don’t believe it is hockey’s stage. European football’s seasons last from August to late May, yet during the summer athletes still play in the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship, both of which last about a month. I don’t see why the NHL can’t do something similar to FIFA and UEFA in scheduling their international competitions. Neither the World Cup of Hockey nor the Canada Cup has not been contested since 2004. Although I don’t know the details of the tournament, 2011 will see the next World Cup. Like many folks, I don’t like the two-week break from NHL action because — to some degree — it re-balances all 30 teams in the run-up to the playoffs. The NHL needs more international fixtures to raise the profile of the sport in the nations that make up the league so that international fans get more excited about their country’s best NHLers. The 2011 World Cup of Hockey is the right lunge toward an NHL-sanctioned and prestigious competition for internationals in the greatest league on Earth. Hopefully it will catch on.

OrderedChaos

The 2010 Olympic Games’ hockey tournament should make it clear to the NHL, and all, that players can and should represent their countries on the world’s biggest stage—er, rink—even though, in Vancouver, the rink was NHL-sized. One wonders how much that contributed to NHL players’ success over their European counterparts . . . but I digress. The point is, NHLers in the Olympics is something the players want and something most hockey fans want. NHL owners and the league must find a way to make it work, and they really need to start figuring that out soon since Sochi is just a bit farther away than Vancouver.

I don’t just encourage Olympic participation because the Caps’ biggest star (and Sochi ambassador) will undoubtedly be in the 2014 Olympics, with or without permission. Key NHL players may decide that it’s better to play for a year or two in the KHL, or their home countries, if that’s the only way they can participate in the Olympics. Stonewalling players from Olympic participation would be a practical and political nightmare, and one the NHL cannot afford. Perhaps owners can strike a deal with the IOC . . . I don’t know, something like shortening the NHL season by 5 games or so in return for promotion/publicity at the Olympics.

I don’t have the solution; but the NHL must find one in the next few years.

On a side note, not even Team USA’s loss at the hands of Sidney Crosby rivaled the disappointment that Rush was part of neither the opening nor closing ceremonies. D’oh, Canada!

Gary

These Olympic games were wonderful with respect to hockey. Though a much anticipated Russia/Canada matchup failed to meet expectations, a United States/Canada matchup did not. Twice. Yesterday had a Super Bowl vibe to it with much more at stake. National Pride. It was, as Badger Bob Johnson would have said, “a great day for hockey.” A great day, indeed. You may not have enjoyed the outcome of the Gold Medal Game, but who can say they did not enjoy the game? Canada may have gold, but hockey was the winner.

Fast forward to Sochi in 2014. Will the NHL be there? I think they will. The league has been mum because this will be a barganing chip in the owner’s pocket for the next CBA. I believe the players will want to be there. I believe the owners want to showcase their sport. Will there be issues to solve? Sure there will. But timezone’s shouldn’t be one of them. Salt Lake City and Vancouver sit in time zones that for the most part are Washington/New York/Toronto friendly. Sochi sits four hours ahead of Greenwich time. Torino and Nagano? Plus one and plus nine respectively. If Torino and Nagano is doable, so is Sochi.

DC Sports Chick

If nothing else, these Olympic hockey games were full of surprises.  Who would’ve thought that the U.S. would beat Canada on Feb. 21, that Russia would exit the Games so early, or that the U.S. team would be playing for a gold medal?  What surprised me the most was how it seemed like EVERYONE was watching the gold medal game yesterday, even folks whose hockey knowledge was limited to “The Mighty Ducks.”  The sport was definitely the big winner yesterday; here’s hoping some of those casual fans are intrigued enough to want to learn more about hockey.

As for 2014, NHL players have to be there.  Would yesterday’s game have received that massive level of attention if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wasn’t there?  It still would have been a big game, but not on the same level.  Whether Gary Bettman likes it or not, having the NHL at the Games is a crucial part of pushing hockey into the mainstream.

pucksandbooks

After I recovered from the sudden-death gut-punch by him, I was able to place this gold medal hockey game in its proper context. It was a game Canada survived, while for the Americans it was one serving noticed that they’d arrived. Two weeks ago, conventional wisdom was that these Games were a formality for the continuation of the Canada-Russia rivalry. By Sunday night, hockey’s top rivalry had been recast. Looking ahead, considering the prevalence of elite, under-25 talent at all positions for both Canada and the U.S., it seems certain to be a rivalry to endure. And ripen! The Americans this year have served notice at both the World Juniors and the Olympics that they’re big players on the biggest hockey stages.

photo by Reuters

Will there be NHLers in Sochi? The debate was made moot by the two U.S.-Canada games in Vancouver, in my opinion. How could the NHL possibly stand in the way of a renewal of this drama? I know that there’s a World Cup of Hockey scheduled in a couple of years. I’ll watch that, too, and it’ll be great hockey as well. But there’s no substitute for the luster of the Olympics. Gary Bettman and perhaps a plurality of NHL owners may not recognize it, but the rest of the world does. When you get past all the sliminess of the IOC, all of the pomposity and pimping out of the Games’ heritage, in its essence the Games continue to showcase the greatest feats of athletic endeavors the world knows.

“While in Washington recently, I ran into a woman who drives an hour each way every day just to watch the Capitals practice,” The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell wrote at Vancouver’s conclusion. “She spends $2,500 on season tickets. She told me she knew absolutely nothing about hockey before the 2006 Olympics, but saw Alex Ovechkin playing and learned he played for the local team.”

More locals were converted to hockey in the past week by what they saw.

“I think (the Olympics) is great for hockey and we have to give back to fans everywhere,” USA coach Ron Wilson said after the gold medal game. “We do a pretty good job of stealing players from every country and we owe their fans an opportunity to witness a tournament like this one.”

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This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Gary Bettman, Hockey Heroes, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Olympic hockey, USA Hockey, Vancouver Olympics, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Olympic Hockey To Remember — and Perpetuate

  1. MichiganHockeyMomof3 says:

    Excellent comments by all. It was a great Olympics, wasn’t it? And of course, the hockey was what we were most interested in, being parents of 3 hockey playing boys, one of which (11 years old) being convinced that he will play on a line with Sidney Crosby in 8 years.

    Although we would have liked to see the USA bring home the gold, silver is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when we were written off from the get-go! No one gave us a chance to make it to the medal round at all, let alone garner one to bring home!

    Anyway, This was one of hockey’s finest moments: this rivalry of young talent, set on a home sheet of ice for one team (the country who invented the game, no less!) and a neighbor for the other team, and just little nuances of the “Miracle” of 30 years past. I had many people mention that they would be watching the game and they weren’t hockey fans. It was just that kind of alignment of stars kind of thing (even though I don’t believe that – hard work, talent and blessings get you were will be).
    Let’s hope that Gary Bettman will get his head out of his…..office…….and realize what a GREAT thing this has been for the NHL! Stars with names that even non-hockey fans will know, playing for the flag of their heritage! It puts the game of hockey that we know and love out for all to share! At a time when USAHockey is reporting declines in youth hockey numbers (for various reasons, not the least of which is the economy), this is a tremendous opportunity for the NHL (as a whole) to put their arms around International Hockey and let it shine! Let the NHL players play for their countries, let them take a break and play for pride, not money or a job, let them bring excitement to the masses! Bettman is stuck in his office on 5th Avenue and doesn’t seem to WANT to care about anything else but his view!

    Anyway, I have to get school going for my kids, because later this AM, I have to take my future Penguin (or coach of the Red Wings!) for his skating lesson. Let’s hope that Gary Bettman will see the all important (and it IS important) ratings numbers for the yesterday’s premier game and decide to let the players play. The people surely want it.

    In the words of Badger Bob, it was a GREAT day for hockey – for the last 2 weeks!! Let’s not forget USA women’s hockey – silver for them, too (but that’s a whole different post!)

    Michigan Hockey Mom of 3 boys

  2. penguin pete says:

    i have to say, though i was screaming “noooooooooooo!” at the top of my lungs when sid scored, this blog did enter my mind as i cooled down, realizing on frozen blog’s “noooo!” moment had to smart just a bit more….

  3. VT Phil says:

    Pete,

    You have no idea what that was like. I was fine with the loss, in fact I had no expectation that the US would win that game. But to come off his stick? Anyone but him.

    Now we’ll have to listen to his fans talk non-stop about just how “clutch” he is, even though he did next to nothing the entire tournament until that one shot.

    Damn it. Damn it to hell.

  4. Laura R says:

    VT Phil,

    May yours be the quote heard around the world!

  5. Eric says:

    Pens fans who play on my Sunday night league team were upset that it was Crosby. They’re usually the biggest supporters of 87. One of them even remarked, “He doesn’t do anything through the whole tourney and now he’ll be the hero. That’s bull—-!”

  6. Hittman says:

    Suddenly I’m not in the mood for a Crosby/Ovechkin debate. It’s like attempting to talk trash when losing 5-0 and having the other team just say, “Scoreboard asshole.” Scoreboard asshole, indeed.

  7. jughead says:

    Anyone who feels Crosby did nothing all tournament doesn’t understand hockey. If all that mattered was scoring goals then Ovechkin would be a World Junior Champion, a Junior Hockey Champion, a Stanley Cup Champion and an Olympic Champion like Crosby. He isn’t.

    Throw in a rookie of the year, a scoring title and this year tied with Ovechkin for the lead in goals.

    People whose extent of hockey knowledge stops and starts with who has the fanciest goal on a highlight reel should keep their mouths closed. You sound foolish.

  8. jughead,
    Are you suggesting that Crosby won the NHL Rookie of the Year?

    Calder Trophy Winners

  9. “Did nothing,” Jughead, of course is overstatement; but singling out Crosby for critcism in these Games is not I don’t think heavy-handed or baseless. Relative to his performance with the Pens this season and last, and when you consider that these Games were contested on his size sheet of ice (whereas for many European teams and players it was not), I think it fair to have expected more from him not only in terms of scoring but with respect to controlling games, as he customarily does.

    I venture to say that were you to ask Crosby himself if he was pleased with his play overall in the Games he’d say no.

  10. Dave says:

    Alex- The UEFA Champions league is played simultaneous to league play, not in the summer.

  11. Dave says:

    Reading fail for me, i just re-read it and saw you wrote European Championship. I guess i’m still reeling from Liverpools elimination……

  12. Eric says:

    It has nothing to do with Ovie vs. Sid.

    On his Penguins team, Crosby fits in very well and produces as he is expected to. On the Canadian team, he didn’t quite gel with anyone until the end of the tourney (thanks to Babcock). Pretty simple concept.

  13. Merv says:

    There are two kinds off people in the world Canadians and those who wish they were, get over it USA you lost!!

  14. odessa steps magazine says:

    The joy of the win was ever so slightly mitigated by who scored the goal.

  15. Hittman says:

    @ MERV: Yet Canadians come all the way down to DC to hop on a Caps blog? It was a great game and a great Olympics. Don’t worry, nobody down here wants to be living in America’s hat.

  16. red wings says:

    Its about time i have heard some common sense.This olympic tournament proved that Crosby is just an average player amongst all of the talent of team Canada.He is not the best player in the world.He did not dictate a game,control a game, or even overpower a game. The goal he scored he was in the right place at the right time.Any canadien player on that team could have scored that goal in that situation. Having said that i wish the media will stop craming Crosby down our throats so we can watch the rest of the season and playoffs in peace.

  17. penguin pete says:

    now i’m a pretty open-minded penguins fan, but to call Crosby an average player among all-stars is nonsense, scratch that, bitterness (coming from a wings fan).

    he may not be the best in the world, but he’s absolutely one of the top 2.

    and if you read about that OT goal, you’d learn crosby made a nice little poke sending the puck into iginla, then called for the pass from “Iggy”. granted he didn’t pick a corner, and admitted he just threw it at the net, but it was a play he helped to generate, not so much a right place at the right time circumstance….

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