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Gold or Bust: Canada's Olympic Morning of Delays, Debates, and Decisions
Every four years, I get a second Christmas morning. I wake up at 6 a.m. – somehow wide-eyed and ready – and I shoot out of bed, realizing almost instantaneously that it's that familiar January day when whatever ex-NHLer Hockey Canada has hemmed in as its new heffe will strut across some stage in Toronto to name our country's next Olympic team.
Of course, today I and everyone else watching were greeted to a neverending stampede of no-name executives, all of whom decided to lather up in the limelight for their one chance to be on TV, prior to the team's announcement. We had some French guy blubbering on bilingually, then a woman who I believe was a Minister, and then the Co-Chair of Something Something, and then finally Bob Nicholson and Steve Yzerman, each of whom (surprisingly) did nothing to speed up the process.
If this really was Christmas morning, Canada's press conference was like waking up as a kid four hours before the rest of your family, and then to have your Dad stroll down (reluctantly) in his pyjamas and tell you, "We'll open gifts after I make breakfast."
They've created a rewind button for live TV. How far off is a fast forward feature?
I really only speak English fluently, although I can mumble through French and German, and I know how to ask 'How much?' or 'For the bill' in Italian (Quanto costa? and Il conto, per favore?).
But even I would rather you just say the whole thing in a language I can't understand once than say it in each of Canada's tongues twice.
(Same goes for Celine Dion's intro on Air Canada flights. Just say it all in French or all in English. Whatever gets my flight into air and lets me return to whatever re-run of The Big Bang Theory is supposed to be un-paused on the seat-back video player in front of my face.)
At least the anthem singers at our hockey games have nailed it: just sing most of it in English and that middle part in French. Or, sing most of it in French and then that middle part in English.
Make us know the words each way from a young age and hammer it into us. Don't let us even debate it. Just get it over with!
But of course, that's not how it was. Tuesday morning took forever, and not in the good "I hope Christmas last forever" forever.
Maybe Steve Yzerman was just terrified to not name Martin St. Louis or Claude Giroux. Maybe he was wondering whether he could make a snap, last-second decision on his own and not warn anyone. Maybe he was wondering why Kevin Lowe still had a seat at the table next to him.
But either way, Canada's next Olympic team was named and the public post-mortem began. The focus and hatred had either already been spent on the 30-minute intro or it just amplified our impatience and – therefore – our anger.
I generally try to avoid blanket 'This is my Canadian Olympic team' projection-type stories for a few reasons. One, I'm not 12 years old. Two, it doesn't matter what I think. Three, everyone else already has one and has published one, and no matter what I put down, you only care what Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger think anyway. They're the only ones you trust to know a single thing.
(Even the guys at Sportsnet have to realize that last point.)
But, most of all – and it's become clear now – I know that Canada's Olympic fortune has absolutely nothing to do with its roster.
The roster is always going to be exceptional. Stacked, top-to-bottom. It's Marvel's Avengers versus whatever crappy equivalent DC Comics wrestles up for Russia, the United States, Slovakia, Sweden, and Finland.
Sure, the Swedes look pretty darn great. The Americans and the Russians, too. But, would Dustin Brown or Jimmy Howard ever make this Canadian team? Honestly, the Sedin Twins could be on the bubble. If Claude Giroux and Logan Couture have played themselves off this Maple Syrupy squad, would 'guaranteed' Swedish stars like Gabriel Landeskog or Patrik Berglund even be within shouting distance?
Teemu Selanne made Finland. He's ancient and crumbling quickly. Joe Thornton fell off of Canada. He leads the NHL in assists.
And still, Finland could quite conceivably beat Canada when the two meet in their final preliminary game in Sochi, just like they did in 2006, when even Switzerland beat Canada.
The Olympic is as much about timing, luck, and how you feel today as it is about the star power of your bench.
Canada's most reliable goalie – because of his size and his style – is Phoenix's Mike Smith. But as the third guy behind Carey Price and Roberto Luongo, Smith won't see the crease unless Lu's injury persists and Price completely buckles.
Rick Nash and Patrick Marleau are feel-good returnees, and the inclusion of all-around top gun Patrice Bergeron and the plucky, playmaking Chris Kunitz should be proof to any hockey dad that you can teach your kid to be excellent in a lot of ways, not just the "Patrick Kane YouTube" way.
But will it matter in the end?
In 2010, the best forwards all-Olympics long were the Americans' Kane and Ryan Kesler, Slovakia's late (and wildly underrated and under-appreciated at the time) Pavol Demitra, and Jonathan Toews, who was still considered to be almost too young to make that team before he added a gold medal and a Stanley Cup to his repertoire in a few short months.
Steven Stamkos was left off, much like Sidney Crosby was left off in 2006, and you would hear a lot more about that snub now if Canada hadn't squeaked out overtime gold over the faster, hungrier, more efficient United States.
That's the word... EFFICIENCY.
You could have swapped 10 of these guys for 10 others who didn't make it, and nobody in Canada would be any more convinced that this team is as good as it gets, or as bonafide as it gets.
We always have the best players. Always. But we only occasionally have the best team.
We may have won two golds in the last three tournaments, but both our championships were on North American ice. They were also our only golds in the past 64 years, and yes that does matter still.
Another important, yes it matters fact: gold medalists tend to fail miserably in their encore.
Sweden won gold in 1994 and finished without a medal in 1998. The Czechs won in 1998 and tied for fifth in 2002. The Canadians won in 2002 were out by the quarterfinals in 2006. The Swedes? They won in 2006 and lost to Slovakia in the 2010 quarters.
And Canada won in 2010.
This could be a flukey pattern. Or it could show, it doesn't matter – at all – what happened four years ago. Canada's 2010 captain Scott Niedermayer is retired. His playing partner then, Chris Pronger, basically is, too. Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla were shoo-ins for that team and are barely shoo-in first liners (starer, in Brodeur's case) in the NHL right now.
No team wins today by copying what it did yesterday.
It changes all the time and every nation goes in blind.
What that said, best of luck. I'll be crying, win or lose.