HOCKEY CANADA: WORST GAMES EVER

-AP Photo (don’t they look all intense? Guys, where was the intensity before the final two minutes on Wednesday?)
Greetings,

In spite of the fact this Winter Olympics has been incredible for Canada in every way
imaginable (Cindy Klassen should be the COC’s choice for flag bearer at the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday), the men’s hockey loss to Russia yesterday and the women’s gold medal win leaves me feeling surprisingly annoyed and even ashamed.

First off, the women. Listen ladies, I appreciate your gold medal win. But you did it in the worst possible way and potentially ruined women’s hockey at the Olympics for 2010 – it’s no secret that the I.O.C. wasn’t impressed with the brutal shellacking Canada delivered Italy and Russia (I guess team Canada thought it was 1924, not 2006, when Canada would routinely deliver 30-0 victories against weaker opponents), and it was all done with a strange aloofness on part of the coach, i.e. Melody Davison. After all the rationalizing was done (“we need the goals advantage!”) on part of the women, they end up the away team against an incredibly outgunned Swedish team that pulled a Lake Placid-esque moment of their own against the U.S. and find out all their efforts to run up the score were in vain. So excuse me if I don’t feel an outpouring of national pride when we won gold. I know there’s loads of pressure on Canada’s hockey teams to win gold at the Olympics, but when Don Cherry even says 16-0 wins against obviously overmatched teams like Italy is “un-Canadian,” you have to wonder. To paraphrase Marge Simpson, “there is such a thing as being a bad winner.” This being said, the IIHF put in a format that tacitly encouraged needlessly pounding on teams. So don’t blame the Canadian women entirely (although don’t let them off the hook either).

Onto the men, a team doomed to failure from the start. I never had confidence in this team, not for a one moment before, during or after their ignominious loss to a superior Russian squad on Wednesday. But let’s be clear: a team that had a combined payroll exceeding $90 million that can’t score in 11 of their final 12 periods? This team isn’t any different than the World Cup team of 2004; while excuses aplenty were being made to let this team off the hook (The Lockout! The NHL surface! The Distractions, oh my!), I lost a lot of respect for the leadership of Wayne Gretzky the last two days.

First of all, Todd Bertuzzi. It was bad karma selecting a dude whose actions wouldn’t be tolerated in the real world and his sharp decline in play made his choice questionable at best.

Second, it’s a lame excuse to say the NHL ice surface is what players like these are used to and that’s why they failed. That’s BS – many members of Team Canada played on international ice surfaces at Salt Lake City and they won there.

Third, it’s very convenient to mention the lockout as a reason why Canada sucked in men’s hockey this year—oddly enough, other teams in this tournament, i.e. Russia, have players in the NHL too.

Finally, Pat Quinn. Why? WHY? The guy’s on the razor’s edge in Toronto as it is; after this humiliating loss, he’s about two losses away from Richard Peddie calling up the media for a press conference to announce Quinn’s “retirement.” He’s worn out his welcome as Canada’s coach and hopefully Bob Nicholson will select a coach for 2010 who knows how to gel a team together for a competition that clearly isn’t a cakewalk and shouldn’t be treated as such.

It’s a damn shame that our hockey teams will continue to overshadow what has been a great Olympics for Canada. But let’s face facts: Canada, collectively, got arrogant about our country’s chances at hockey tournaments like these. I hold out hope in 2010, Canada will have a new management structure that doesn’t select players based on instinct or a GM’s intuition, a coach who knows how to make Canada’s elite players gel and, most importantly, instills a sense of humility into the Hockey Canada program. We’re one nation among many that are good enough to win gold, and we need to stop acting like we’re entitled to it.

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