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.
photo credit: Getty Images, via USA Hockey