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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”