(*Also published on Black Press’s network of sites, including the Victoria News…)
I love Olympic hockey. This does not make me unique. Instead, it makes me one of 30 million Canadians. But that’s what I love about it, of course.
Win or lose, every fourth February is its own sort of Christmas. But it’s better. Christianity is the religion of Christmas but hockey is the religion of the Olympics, and I’d only choose the latter every time.
Tonight – this Wednesday night, where I’d love to get some sleep but quite simply won’t because I can’t – is Christmas Eve. Canada is playing Norway in the a.m., starting with some terrible, early-riser of a scheduled puck drop. They will crush Norway, hopefully. I don’t take pride in this but I’m not going to apologize for it, either. Would I rather Canada open its tourney against the Finns? Sure, for excitement’s sake. But it’s hockey. I’ll take what I can.
And even though I’ll pour every valve of my heart into this Canadian quest between now and two Sundays from now, I am relieved.
I am relieved, because I don’t have to watch my soul-less Canucks shame Vancouver anymore, at least not in the middle of their seven-game slide. Yet to end, by the way.
I am relieved, because I can enjoy hockey now. I don’t enjoy watching the Canucks play. It’s too hard. Even when they’re winning, I always know they’re potentially 60 minutes from a loss, and every loss will hurt like any loss could hurt.
We have all gambled. I hope. When you lose $20, it hurts. When your lose $100, it hurts, too. $100 might hurt more than $20, but hurt is hurt. Disappointment is worse than a slaughter. And with the Canucks, like with gambling, I always end up back at the table.
Whether the Canucks are about to lose their first in a row or their fifth – or their eighth, if we’re keeping current – it’s all hard to watch. It’s all hard to take.
But with Canada, I don’t feel that way. Not tonight, at least. It could be that our maple leafs begin their Olympics against Norway and then Austria, meaning we’re almost guaranteed a 2-0 record at inception.
It could be this soon-to-be-extinct Olympic hockey premise, where the Canucks I love all 12 months of any year – maintenant, Luongo and Hamhuis – can fuse with their NHL rivals, guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron and Drew Doughty, and I can cheer for them all at once.
The world’s best player, Sidney Crosby, can be my teammate in only two ways – on the Playstation and in the Olympics.
I can even cheer for Sweden. I’ll probably enjoy watching the U.S. And, although I have been trained to support anyone who plays them, I can at least relate to what Russia is trying to do – win a gold on home soil in the only foreseeable chance they have to do so.
Olympic hockey is a bottomless gift-basket, a two-week pot of gold (quite literally) that feels like a vacation, even if you’re running 9-to-5.
In that way, it is like Christmas Eve. It’s like New Year’s. It’s like every annual phenomenon multiplied by February 29th.
If it’s about supply and demand, the Olympics is a product that can charge whatever it want. (And, if you remember Vancouver, it did.)
That’s the shame of the NHL’s expected, cowardly curtain call. Leagues rarely respect their own players. Even rarer is a true show of respect for their fans.
Nobody apologized for that last lockout, or the one before that, or the one before that. They won’t apologize when they pull the world’s best from their only chance to prove it, either. In 2018, if the NHL kinks its Olympic hose, the Winter Games will no longer have its greatest athletes in its biggest sport. This is a shame. It’s up to The Count and his merry men, and since when have they impressed you?
They’ll expect us to bow before the Throne, to honour the NHL and its brand. But we don’t really care about the NHL. We care about the Stanley Cup, we care about the players we care about, and we care about the Olympics.
We care about the game.
And, for one final fortnight, that’s all that matters.