No Messiah Shows Up - Canada Blows The Olympics
posted Feb 22, 2006 at 07:34PM
Let the recriminations begin!
There will be much hand-wringing, punditry and pure second guessing following Team Canada's failure to compete for a podium finish in the Turin Olympics.
And for good reason.
It was a most unsatisfying performance. You cannot escape the fact that in the four games in which we played against real opponents, we lost three of them, getting shut out each time. We only scored goals in one period out of 12. I mean how is that even possible?
The one good thing from this is that hopefully the Team Canada brain-trust will completely reevaluate their philosophy in preparing for this tournament in Vancouver, which will arguably be the most important tournament (not "series") on Canadian soil in our nation's History.
Forget icons and legacies, a similar performance in Vancouver should have Canadians stringing up the responsible parties to the nearest available telephone poles
In a way watching Team Canada was not dissimilar to following the Senators in the play-offs against the Leafs. Our best players were not picked, (See "Team Canada Plays it Safe" posted 21 Dec 05) and those that were selected, were organized in a way that did not allow our strengths to shine through. Even the way potential rushes were killed by dumping the puck in and changing lines according to the dictats of a stop watch had that old Jacque Martin stench to it.
This obsession with "grit" and "balance" meant that Team Canada's biggest advantage, the depth of our talent pool was instantly negated. Did Gretzky think the Oilers won all those cups because of their "grinders"? I found it ironic that during the tournament Gretzky stated that Canada needed its "young guns to step up". How can they step up when they are not on the team? Look at the young guns that Gretzky et al turned their noses up at: Spezza, Stahl, Savard, Crosby, Marleau. And he overlooked them in favour of who?? Draper? Doan?, Smyth?
At the time of team selection, those five players were in the top six in NHL scoring amongst Canadians. Heatley was the only one of that top six on the ice today. A line of Heatley, Spezza and Crosby/Stahl will skate circles around Draper et al. Here the bigger ice surface becomes an advantage, not an excuse. Iginla hasn't been able to close the deal all season. Why did anyone expect him to start against the best teams in the world?
I knew we were in bad shape when I heard Gretzky, perhaps the most talented intuitive player in history, who had access to the deepest pool of intuitive hockey skill on the planet, talk about how Canada was not "dumping the puck in softly enough". The blunt truth was that the Finns, Czechs and Russians out-skilled us. They passed better, they skated faster and they shot better. That is why they won. Certainly not because they "dumped" the puck in better than us.
As far as line combination, no, I don't have the lines that should have been used. I did not want to get that emotionally invested and I don't follow all the players closely enough. The results though speak for themselves. It was not just that they couldn't score goals, which sometimes just happens even if you are playing well. It was my wife who pointed this out to me that Canada could not complete two passes in a row. And once you started looking for it, it started getting downright creepy.
Some of the "excuses" coming out just don't hold water. First there is the one about the bigger ice surface. Was it a factor? Sure but that goes back to player selection. If anything, knowing you are going to play on a larger ice surface only heightens the requirement to select for outside speed and play-making. Can you imagine what kind of long distance lasers Spezza could have thrown out there on the larger ice surface. Can you imagine how Crosby and Stahl could have exploited their outside speed?
The other one that really bugs me is Gretzky lamenting the loss of Lemieux and Yzerman. But these are formerly great elite players who were at the sunset of their careers. And indeed way too much credit was given to past glories, and not the situation as it existed. Iginla is 67th in NHL scoring this year. Stahl is second. How? Why? In the end who cares. Hockey is a performance orientated affair, and performance at the time of selection should have been given much more weight than it was.
Gretzky opined that the "leadership" qualities of these players were the missing ingredient. What? Were our current players children? Hockey is a team sport and we were beaten by better