I was not planning to post until the Leafs were gearing up to play again, but the John Tavares injury at the Olympic Games brought home just how fragile the health of athletes is. It’s not as though we, as fans, are not already well aware of the risk involved for the individuals whose careers we follow from a distance. But it is nonetheless always disappointing to see. (And it does make me wonder if winning an “Olympic medal” for multi-million dollar professional athletes is really worth it, given the original intent of these Games was about bringing together the world’s best amateur athletes. I know the sports world has changed but pros already have their Stanley Cup, the World Championships and at times the hockey World Cup to play for…)
The injury to Tavares is obviously devastating for him personally. (And who knows if, even with the amazing medical technology we have nowadays, a player will ever be as dynamic as they were before such an injury?) It’s awful for him, his teammates who depend on him and certainly the Islander organization who pay him handsomely to play for them—not for Team Canada.
What this triggered may seem like a ridiculous question, but I’ll put it out there anyway because, if most of us are honest, it’s the kind of unrealistic/theoretical “decision”/question that we contemplate in various parts of our life on a regular basis. For example, sometimes we may be facing a decision in life, and think, “If only one of these two things is going to happen for me, I would pick ‘x’…”. (What I’m presenting is maybe somewhat akin to the games some of us try to play with God—you know, as in, “if you do this for me, I’ll be a good guy”, etc…)
Well, with the U.S.-Canada contest just hours away, the ‘test’ for Leaf fans may be as simple as: if you had to pick between Leaf star Phil Kessel staying healthy the rest of this tournament or Team Canada winning Gold, which would you want most? (Quick aside: there are so many tremendous Leaf supporters around the world, of course, and certainly a ton in the United States. The question could be framed a bit differently, perhaps, for American-based Leaf boosters who will be pulling for the United States to advance to the Gold medal game...)
It’s not a particularly great question for me, personally, because as I have disclosed here over the years, I’ve always been a Leaf fan, period. I’ve rarely ventured (unless I’ve worked professionally with someone who plays for or is a coach with Team Canada at the World junior or NHL level) into having a serious rooting interest for our national hockey teams—at least not since we started sending professionals to the Olympics. I’ve generally, at least in my youth, had a strong dislike for anyone who didn’t play for the Leafs, so the national pride/Canada angle was not a big tug for me, though I well recognize it is for 99+% of hockey fans in this country.
I’m just different in this regard, I guess. I was never going to cheer for Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and players I hated in the NHL. It’s just not in my sports fan DNA. (I can’t conceive that my father, born in 1910 and a devoted lifelong Montreal fan of all-time greats like Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Butch Bouchard, Doug Harvey and of course “The Rocket”, could ever have cheered for, say, the hated Gordie Howe if Richard and Howe played together on a “Team Canada” way back when…)
So for me, regarding my “question” today, the answer is simple: Kessel avoiding a fluke injury (against Canada or anyone else) and staying healthy is way more important than Canada winning a medal at some made-for-Olympics, one-game elimination event. Throwing teams together a day before the “tournament” starts and then claiming one country is better than another (see Russia's disaster) at the end is kind of off base, at least for me. How can one game really provide a fair assessment? (That's why I love the NHL playoffs- it's the best league in the world and if you survive that grind, you are a worthy champion.)
To be clear: I’m well aware this is not even a good hypothetical scenario but I’d be interested in hearing, as unrealistic as the question is, whether you place a Team Canada gold medal above all else.