Sunday, February 28, 2010

Five Thoughts on USA-Canada

1. If you want to know why some people opine that Gary Bettman is a plant by David Stern to destroy the NHL, Bettman is having second thoughts about NHL players participating in the 2014 Olympics. Today's game makes me infinitely more likely to watch an NHL game or three over the remainder of the season. The game reminded me - a fan who used to follow hockey quite closely, but who has mostly dropped the sport because of a combination of work/family demands and the complete ineptitude of the local franchise - of what I loved about the sport, of what made me play it in the backyard at home. (Yes, the fabled story of a 12-year old kid playing hockey on grass in the 95 degree heat of a July day in Macon, Georgia. It's just what CBC would have in mind if they did a documentary on the sport at the grass roots level.) I'm going to venture a guess that the rating for today's game will dwarf the rating of any Stanley Cup Final game by a factor of five. So why would the NHL want its star players being exposed to a wider audience? Why would it want them showing the game at its absolute highest level? Why would the league have an interest in large audiences seeing its players bust their lungs on every shift?

2. The strange thing about the game is that I kept saying to myself "when is Sidney Crosby going to make an impact?" Crosby has the mantle as the next Gretzky (or at least the next Lemieux), and S.L. Price's piece on Crosby in SI before the Olympics got me excited for the tournament. Expecting Crosby to be the best player on the ice, I had a hard time finding any impact from him, other than a breakaway that he created in the third period and then flubbed. Sure enough, Crosby emerged from a quiet night with a sterling play to win the gold medal for Canada on Canadian soil. It's hard to overstate the movie-esque quality of the moment. Just read the Price piece if you haven't already and then try to think of the last American athlete who is or was as iconic as Sidney Crosby now is in Canada. (On a related note, how pissed is Alex Ovechkin tonight?)

3. At times during the game, I thought that there were two factors keeping the U.S. in a game with a more talented opponent. One was a superior goalie, the great equalizer in hockey. The other is the fact that the U.S. team is more like a regular hockey team, with a few stars and then a series of role players. Canada has gotten away from the notion of putting star players on all four lines, but they still seemed a little less constructed for a tight, grind-it-out game like the final. Then, Jarome Iginla and Crosby connected on a tremendous goal and I was reminded that sometimes, skill wins out. It's hard to imagine two American players combining like Iginla and Crosby did.

4. If there's a better way to end a sporting event than an entire arena belting out their country's national anthem, I'd like to see it.

5. Part of what was so cool about the game was that NBC presented it as a straight sporting event. I remember being in London during the 2000 Olympics and enjoying the Games far more than I normally do because the English presented the Olympics without the insultingly stupid engineered melodrama that NBC favors. Fortunately, NBC did nothing of the sort this afternoon, possibly because it has the NHL's national contract and has an incentive to show a hockey game in a way that will appeal to a sports fan like, say, me. More, please.


chg said...

The Olympics would be so much better if they were presented as a sporting event instead of a series of connected Oprah anecdotes. I can't help but wonder how much of the "women watch the Olympics" mantra is the result of the coverage style, and not the events themselves.

If they presented it as sports, would the mostly male sports viewers they would pick up offset the mostly female viewers who would lose interest without puff pieces?

I think it might, and I definitely hope I get to find out eventually.

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