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If NHL says no to Olympics, hockey powers would take a hit | Posted Sports | National Post

In Canada on August 18, 2010 at 21:35

If NHL says no to Olympics, hockey powers would take a hit

REUTERS/Todd Korol

REUTERS/Todd Korol

Sidney Crosby of Canada celebrates with his team after winning the gold medal in hockey by defeating the U.S. at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, February 28, 2010.

  August 18, 2010 – 12:20 pm

By Dave Gross, Postmedia News

The Canadian Olympic men’s hockey program is the focus of scrutiny on nearly a month-by-month basis — where it’s headed and what’s the best way to honour both tradition and, what’s lately become a tradition of excellence.

That excellence was best exemplified in February when the Canadian Olympic team enjoyed The Perfect Storm.

Hosting the Games in picturesque Vancouver, Canada hooked up in a North American television ratings gold mine as the final featured the hosts against arguably their greatest rival in the United States.

When the game went into overtime, the storm was in motion; when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal, the skies opened.

Just days later, though, debate took over as the National Hockey League, led by commissioner Gary Bettman, hemmed and hawed about future participation by the game’s greatest performers.
The 2014 Winter Olympics take place in Sochi, Russia and the NHL has not committed to shutting down operations for two weeks to allow its best to participate.

The league has a legitimate case. While Vancouver was a bonanza, the Sochi Games present bigger challenges — longer travel, the fatigue factor, and the possibility of injuries to the guys who lure ticket-buyers to NHL arenas.

The fact that the International Olympic Committee doesn’t throw even a dime back at the NHL is an impediment as well.

“I can understand,” two-time Olympic gold medallist Scott Niedermayer said this month. “The league has its investment in their players. They want them to remain healthy and on the ice playing for their teams to make money. It’s a business.

“A lot of times it doesn’t get said, but that’s the reality of it. Players are in it as a business to make money, the owners are in it for the same reason and that creates issues and concerns for everybody.”

Of course, if the league decides it doesn’t want to close shop in 2014, Canada goes back to a formula that has produced little success.

And the Canadians wouldn’t be alone in fielding what would largely be an amateur squad. All the hockey powers would take a hit — even Russia (although superstar Alexander Ovechkin has vowed he’ll participate regardless of the NHL’s decision).

This is where things get interesting.

In 1998 when the NHL swung open the door for its players to fully participate, the dynamic changed. Prior to that year in Nagano, the Canadian roster was rich with on-the-cusp pros, college skaters and amateurs.

Success was minimal.

However, back then, and especially prior to the invasion into the NHL that hit its stride in the late 1980s, the European clubs were stocked with each country’s best.

The playing field was not balanced.

“But it was a different era,” said Dave King, who coached the Canadian team in 1984, ‘88 and ‘92.

“The Russians were odds-on favourites as was Czechoslovakia, so the playing field was tilted toward the European teams. For the North Americans it was going to be, ‘could we pull an upset?’ Of course with the U.S. upset (in 1980) that set the stage for that for all of us.

“The playing field wasn’t level; the international teams were very, very good. The Russians and the Czechs were so strong because at that time, other than defectors, and there weren’t many, they were basically untouched by the NHL.”

King’s best Winter Games was his last as Canada won silver in 1992.

While he had a young Eric Lindros and a couple of NHL veterans in Dave Tippett and Dave Hannan (who were added late), the roster was, again, mostly guys slightly below the big-league level.

“I never felt we were disadvantaged, but I always knew you’d have to pull the upset and prove the experts wrong,” said King.

If the Olympics go back to the “standard,” you won’t hear King complaining.

“I have to say I don’t enjoy seeing what’s going on now,” he said. “It’s a duplication of the Canada Cup.

“Because I come from the old school, I still like the nucleus being young guys who invest the whole year with you. They were young up-and-coming players. It was the next step on the ladder for them to make it to the NHL. I like that model.

“We had a little bit of that romance that other sports have,” King added. “They were paid Sport Canada grants which weren’t very much. They had to give up, maybe, minor pro money. There was a sacrifice made, and I like that and the romance of that.”

Niedermayer, who’s prospered both internationally and at the NHL level with four Stanley Cup titles, admitted there might be a bit of that Cinderella aspect during the King era, but that particular romance has been replaced.

“I know I liked being there,” he said with a laugh when asked about playing in the 2002, ‘06 and ‘10 Games.

“I would guess as a fan, and you’re in Canada, you probably want your best players there. Maybe there’s some people who prefer the amateurs and that’s fair but I know that if I was out there competing against the best in the world, I would want my best players out there as well to try and win the thing,” he said.

Niedermayer said times have indeed changed, and with it, perspective.

“It’s what we do (as pros competing at the Olympics). We’re competitive and we want to win and obviously when you represent your country you want to do that,” he said.

“The Olympic gold medal has such prestige in all athletics around the world. Representing Canada in the game of hockey, our game, it makes you feel good and makes you proud to be a part of that.”

Posted in: NHL, Olympics, Posted Sports  Tags: , ,


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1:26 PM on August 18, 2010

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The Canadian Revolution

1:31 PM on August 18, 2010

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If the AmericaNHL says NO to the Olympics, Canada currently has no option but to send amateurs to defend the title. If, on the other hand – and like every other hockey nation, Canada had its own national professional hockey league (regardless of perceived quality, etc.), at least Canada’s best and brightest would have a league to call home. Remember, Ovie as much stated his intention, if Gary Bettman says NO, that he’ll go play in the KHL that season (or take a ‘leave of absence’). Another reason to support

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2:37 PM on August 18, 2010

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Get rid of Bettman, he is a plague to OUR game. Send him back to the Us and all those who are working with him.

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3:17 PM on August 18, 2010

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