Like a lot of Canadians I went through a lot of emotions after watching Canada get bumped out of the Olympic tournament by Russia, Finland and Switzerland (previously known more for its cheese and chocolate than its prowess on the ice). Rage, sorrow, ennui, more rage, more sorrow, dejection, and finally a state of universal numbness that I fully expect to last for weeks.
I’ve thought about that loss a lot, wondering how a roster of the best hockey players in the top professional league can get beaten so soundly, and this is what I came up with:
• Hockey is a team sport, and the Canadians never had a chance to come together as a team. Unlike Switzerland, where the team was probably picked last year and trained as a team through the summer, the Canadians only had a few practices to get it together. Canada also has a problem with depth – most players on teams like Finland and Russia know a year or so ahead of time whether they’re on the team or not, and they used that time wisely. Canada picked its team in January, with a lot of question marks over certain players. Athletes in all other Olympic sports get four years to train for the Games, while Team Canada gets four practices. However, if we started to pick our team and alternates a lot earlier, say at the end of the previous NHL season, we would have time and resources to train a team specifically for the Games and maybe a few weeks in the summer to practice on an Olympic rink.
• Canada is too easy going. We invented the sport, we supply the bulk of professional players in the league, and yet for some reason we condescend to play by everyone else’s rules. Just once I’d like to see an Olympic hockey tournament played on the ice it was meant to be played on, with the same rules as used by the top professional league in the world. Who is the IIHF anyway, and why should they matter? All the top European players are in the NHL.
For the Canadians, who grew up and turned pro playing in smaller rinks, playing this Euro-style hockey is like putting 100-metre sprinters in a marathon. It’s still running, just as Olympic hockey is still hockey, but there’s a world of difference to the athletes.
• Canada is hampered by our own love of hockey. The team should have been younger and faster with Crosby, Phaneuf, Spezza, Staal, Savard and other players in the lineup, and a much faster defensive core. The problem is that we would consider it a national dishonour not to put future Hall of Famers like Foote and Blake in the lineup, even if they are in the sunset of their careers and have no chance of keeping up to the faster Europeans and Russians. We’re just so grateful for their past services, and in awe of their careers, that we lacked the cold judgment necessary to pick the best players for the job. In this case the job was a massive rink, jet lag, an intense tournament schedule, and refs who were told to call everything.