I never thought I’d say this, but…bravo, Alex Ovechkin!
The NHL has always been run by Canadians, for Canadians, even when NHL-affiliated events transpire elsewhere.
When the 2002 Winter Olympics took place in Salt Lake City, Canadians hired to tend the ice (the U.S. had apparently lost the recipe) interred a Canadian dollar coin under the center face-off dot. A lucky loony, buried in American ice. U.S. Coach Herb Brooks was not amused. Me, neither.
The 2010 Winter Olympics take place in Vancouver. NHL players will participate, as they have since 1998.
But the NHL has no commitment to the Olympics beyond Vancouver. There’s talk of this being the last Olympics NHL players will participate in. It disrupts the NHL schedule, it detracts from the Stanley Cup playoffs, blah, blah, blah…all that’s true, but why stop now? You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
But if Canada wins in Canada, that’s a nice note to end it on, eh?
Nyet, says Ovechkin.
The 2014 Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia, and Ovechkin says he will play for his country. If Ovechkin gets suspended for skipping out on the NHL season, so be it.
“Nobody can say to me you can’t play for your country in the Olympic Games,” Ovechkin said.
I love international hockey. But I don’t like when it supercedes the NHL. Canada doesn’t pay Sidney Crosby. The Penguins do. When Crosby skates for Canada, the Penguins assume the risk. Pens fans don’t care if Sid wins gold, not really. They want another Cup.
But 1998 changed everything. Now, with so many Europeans in the NHL, the mentality in NHL locker rooms mimics that of pro soccer: Country first, club second. It sucks, but it’s irrevocable.
Just ask Ovechkin. His stand, especially taken now – and with NHL labor negotiations two years away – will cause dominoes to fall and, ultimately, guarantee NHL players in Sochi.
NHL players are in international hockey for keeps. That realized, it’s good to see Ovechkin put the NHL (read: Canada) in its place.
I will, however, break a longstanding personal rule for Vancouver ’10, namely NEVER CHEER FOR CANADA. I even rooted against Mario in ’02 because Canada played the U.S., coached by Brooks, in the final. But I’m going to stick with Crosby this time. Forgive me, Herb.
But here’s hoping the U.S. can make a darkhorse run. And if Russia wins, I’d be happy for Geno.
But one of my fondest hockey memories remains Sept. 14, 1996. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Game 3, World Cup of Hockey finals. United States 5, Canada 2. The U.S. rallies from a 2-1 deficit to net four goals in the last 3:18 to totally silence what had been an orgasmic Bell Centre.
Guess the loony wasn’t so lucky that day, eh? And you’ll never have 1980, hosers.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).