Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I feel your pain

If, six weeks ago, you would have told a Canadian that the men’s hockey team would be coming back from Torino without a medal, most likely they would’ve laughed in your face. Yet here we are on February 22nd, and that’s the reality.

So what happened?

I’m such pundits from all over, including the blosphere, will talk about how Canadian hockey is in trouble. That’s certainly what happened in ’98 after Nagano. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.

Point blank, the team did not play well enough to win. I absolutely believe it’s that simple.

There will be a ton of second guessing surrounding a lot of the selections made by Wayne Gretzky and Co., and so there should. There are definitely some guys who were picked that I scratch my head about (though most of them were questionable back when they were picked to me anyway).

However, I don’t think that’s a fair route to take in full. Some blame lies on the braintrust’s shoulders, the same way they got credit for Salt Lake four years ago, but in doing that, you’re the guys on the ice off the hook considerably and I’m not sure that’s right.

The team that was iced should have been better than this, even with all the factors (big ice, injuries, size, etc.) considered. There is no excuse for their lack of offensive production. They were shut out three times in their last four games, and let’s be honest, im that victory over the Czechs, a few of the goals were not NHL caliber. With the proven goal scoring this team sported, this should be unacceptable.

And so to blame Gretzky, and not talk about how so many of the guys on the team shit the bed, isn’t right.

In some cases, it looked to just be a case of being snake bitten (Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic) while others appeared not to be giving it their all Joe Thornton). Some even looked overwhelmed (Bryan McCabe) and a few made mistakes that were far too costly (Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Pronger).

Whatever the case may be, the team that was iced did not play up to their potential nor the expectations everyone rightfully had of them. To expect them to dominate the competition was not reasonable, however, to assume they would perform better than what we saw was not unjust.

Vancouver is only four years away, and if there is any positive that can come out this, it’s that the excitement and desire for those games will be even more heightened. Coming into Torino, it didn’t feel the same as it did before the 2002 Olympics. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled with the last Olympic win, our world junior dominance, and the World Cup victory in the summer of ’04.

So put those summit meetings where we talk about the changes needed on hold. They’re not necessary. The rest of the world caught up with Canada a long time ago, and so the days of us expecting to win and treating the championship as if it’s ours to lose are gone. Canada remains one of the best hockey nations in the world, and I still think, overall, we’re the best, but if we don’t play well against our peers, we’ll lose. That’s what happened here.

It hurts now, and I’m sure I’ll feel just as shitty when I wake up tomorrow morning and remember all that has happened, but maybe wake up calls like this are what we need to be reminded of how the competitive balance has changed.


At 9:09 PM, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Speed. Both North American braintrusts need to develop a better understanding that, on the larger ice surface, speed is utterly essential. Where I have season tickets (the University of Minnesota) we play on the big ice. Size is nice, but it's all about the speed. All four lines. What we do to large, slower teams that come to visit is often embarrassing.

The other thing isn't player selection, but get the guys together at some point, even the previous summer, and get some experience on international ice. The angles are different.

I prefer watching a speed/skill game to a physical game, so I love watching the Olympics, but it's a different game. You have to treat it as such.


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