Sunday, February 28, 2010

How can anyone ever watch baseball again after that?

The final score of the Winter Olympics' gold medal hockey game on Sunday may be disappointing to those of us who badly wanted to witness Canada get whooped on their home ice.

Yet, it was such a thrilling game hat it's hard to be too bummed that the Frozen People of the North got the medal they needed to validate their when-will-my-balls-thaw existence.

At least you weren't stuck on the subway in Vancouver yesterday; check out the above video to see how that went.

My observations on the game:

1. There should not even be a discussion over whether the NHL should send its players to the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The past week earned more publicity for the sport than the NHL can ever generate on its own with less-than-brilliant marketing techniques such as ice girls and strobe lights.

2. As my friend Scott pointed out in an extremely caffeinated phone call before the third period, did you happen to notice that the game was really exciting despite there being no fighting? Fighting isn't permitted in the international game and I didn't hear one person say they missed it. As I've written before, fighting may be fun sometimes, but it likely turns off more people than it turns on and gives a beautiful sport (which is plenty violent without fighting) a bad image. As long as fighting is allowed and encouraged by the NHL, the NHL will be treated as a minor league sport on par with tractor pulls, pig races and funnel cake eating contests.

3. Which, of course, is a shame. Can anyone who watched today's game imagine sitting in front of a TV for 2 1/2 hours watching a baseball game? Or golf? I think the only sport that comes close on excitement level is pro football and let's face it, today's game was at least 37.3 more times exciting than the Super Bowl -- which featured about 10 minutes of game action and three hours of nut-scratching (albeit nut-scratching in high def!).

4. I'm not so sure that Team Canada is better than Team USA. After two games plus part of an OT period, the U.S. had scored seven goals to Canada's six. The Canadians seemed to have a little more offensive flash throughout the Olympic tournament, but I don't think anyone can argue they were a dominant team. Yes, they slayed Russia. But Russia's goaltender had a mental meltdown that in the old says would have earned him hard time on the Siberian outpost.

5. Perhaps American hockey is catching up with the rest of the world. The U.S. has made it to the finals now in two of the past three Olympics. The number of Americans in the NHL has been on the uptick over the past decade. That said, the number of people playing ice hockey in America hasn't grown all that much in the past decade according to the National Sporting Goods Assn. That's reason for concern and the reason you should be enlisting all children and adults in your neighborhood in hockey school ASAP.

5B. The women's title game pitting U.S. against Canada was almost as exciting as the men's game. Title IX has ensured that women get to play that game at the college level and I hope the girls game grows at the youth level because there's no reason boys should be having all the fun. The only reason Canada won the gold on the women's side is that their goalie was an absolute puck-eating Sasquatch. 

6. Finally, I was mighty impressed with the play of three Los Angeles Kings -- Drew Doughty for the Canadian team and Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson for Team USA. It's a shame that Brown didn't score because he was all hustle and grit and Johnson had a beautiful rush in the second period of Sunday's game that almost resulted in a goal. One of my favorite Johnson moments came after the horn sounded to end the first period. Johnson was on Sidney Crosby and gave him a little bump into the boards, causing two Canadian team members -- Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, of the Anaheim Ducks -- to go after Johnson. Think the next Ducks-Kings game will be fun?

7. This didn't get talked about too much, but you have to wonder if U.S. and Canada would have both reached the finals if the Olympic tournament had been played on the larger Olympic-sized rink. I don't know the answer. I tend to think a larger rink showcases a little bit more skating and stickhandling. On the other hand, the NHL-sized rink really emphasizes speed and the ability to pass quickly before getting slammed into the boards.

The best part of the day? As soon as the Canada-U.S. game ended, I was out the door and on my way to stick time in Pasadena. As great as watching hockey is, there's still nothing quite as great as playing it. Even badly.

--Steve Hymon

photo credit: Getty Images, via USA Hockey


  1. Want to keep hockey as exciting as the Gold Medal game? Then ban fighting and allow only the top eight teams to make the playoffs.

  2. I still couldn't see the puck ... even in high def. But that could be because I'm old and blind.

  3. And good hockey (that is, no fights and NHL bs) makes watching basketball look like paint drying. It was a pleasure to behold...

  4. Yes the puck was hard to see because of the unimaginative camera angles. Am I the only one who liked the FSW/Prime experiment earlier this season with rinkside robo-cams? Did I miss not seeing any fights? I've never been a fighter and when my beer league buddies go at it, I'm watching, so not at all. And as soon as I realized the OT was 4-on-4 I knew it was Canada's gold. They had the superstars that knew how to take advantage of all that open ice whereas the plucky Americans operated best with traffic in front of the net. Even with a loss it was a great way to close out the Olympics.

  5. I agree hockey has always been the most exciting sport to watch — and play. But I don't agree completely on the "ban fighting" idea. There is a very large NHL constituency that loves the fights. Dpn Cherry has been popular for more than 30 years for a reason. I do think you want to limit the Broad Street Bullies-"Slap Shot" style of excessive fighting. But if you ban it outright, the NHL — for all its flaws — loses a large part of its audience that 20-plus years of marketing to "sun belt" hockey towns has not been able to replace. I do think the NHL needs to learn from the Olympic success — and the very cool Winter Classic outdoor games — by improving the quality of the games and focusing on the markets where people play and love hockey first and foremost and building out from there. The "small market" NHL teams have proven more resilient than any sun belt expansion team. It may be time to either fold a few teams or move a few back to Canada.

  6. In reference to the posting of the Canadians singing on the subway . . . well, I never realized Canadians look so much like Koreans. It's amazing. Maybe it's all the Inuit blood in their veins.

    And in response to Tom McLean's comments about fighting: Tom, you're nuts. Study after study the NHL has done has stated that hockey fans are frighteningly loyal to the sport. No knuckle-dragging jughead is going to stop watching the game because there's no longer fighting.

    And, frankly, with the overwhelming success of UFC ultimate fighting there's no more need for the NHL to feel it must provide its fans with the opportunity to watch assualt and battery.