Custom Search

The Olympic hockey curmudgeon: Why modern-day Olympic hockey doesn’t work for me

Though Canada is in the final—and at the risk of sounding un-patriotic—I’m not a big fan of modern-day Olympic hockey.

Now, as I wrote recently, I was a fan of Olympic hockey when Canada was the underdog in the 1960s, sending true amateurs to play against Europe’s best. (See my earlier posts on Seth Martin and Fran Huck…) But I’m not as excited about pros playing in this particular setting, which is generally geared toward amateur athletes.

The reasons are simple, I guess. While it’s hard not to like the idea of the “best playing the best” from various countries in a winner-take-all hockey showdown, I tend to believe players from actual professional teams shouldn’t be in an Olympic-style competition—a World Cup or World Championships, absolutely. But not the Olympics.

Too, I love what I tend to see as the true “team” component of sports. For me, following a team over the course of years is one of the most appealing features of being a fan. And for me, a ‘team” is not thrown together two days before a major event. It’s developed over years, constantly refined, with the obvious objective of winning a championship always in mind, sure. But at the end of the day, even if “your” team doesn’t win, you stay with them year after year.

Goodness knows, long-time Leaf fans well know this feeling.

Cheering for a group of players who generally are opponents is something I’ve never eased into. When I was an intense Leaf fan in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I could never comfortably cheer for, say, Montreal players like Beliveau, Rousseau, Richard, Tremblay, Laperriere and Plante in an all-star game or later Dryden, Lafleur, Savard in an international contest. As much as I respect them greatly looking back now, I hated them and was not really interested in cheering for them, ever.

I probably had too deep an affection for the Leafs. I just couldn’t really like any other “team”—or even players from those teams.

I guess I also have always loved playoff hockey so much. As much as a part of me thinks European soccer has it right (the team that finishes first over a grueling regular season is the true champion, no playoffs involved), for me, winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate achievement in team sports.

Why? Because for me, to have to win four ‘best-of-seven’ playoff rounds—and possibly have to play 28 games in about 60 days (in such a physically demanding sport) to win Lord Stanley’s mug—has to be the most difficult thing to achieve in sports.

In football, a team can have a couple of good days in the playoffs and win in an upset. I just don’t think a hockey team can be that fortunate for four series in a row.

So while the Olympics provides the kind of hockey that most people seem to find off-the-charts in terms of competition and entertainment, I’m more someone who needs to see a team win a tough series, then another, etc. to show they’re the “best”.

In truth, Canada has not had much of a struggle to get to this point in the current Olympic tournament. The self-interested media hoopla surrounding the event tries to make it feel like a big accomplishment, but really, is it?

They’ve defeated one team that was thought to have a legitimate shot at “gold”, and that team, Russia, didn’t really show up in the quarter-final—though Canada certainly had something to do with that.

Now, if you followed this “Olympic” round-robin format and the last two teams left standing then played a best-of-five series over, say, 7 or 8 days, I could maybe enjoy that.

I just don’t think a one-game knockout in a sport like hockey tells us who’s “the best”.

That said, I’ll be watching Sunday, like everyone else!

No comments:

Post a Comment