Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 02/24/14 at 03:07 PM ET
By Tom Murray,
A few thoughts in the wake of the gold medal victories in hockey for the men and women of Canada.
First, the men.
We can talk all we want here in the States about our players being as good as the Canadians, and maybe on paper we are, man for man, all the way down the line. But the simple truth is we can’t begin to compete with them in the area that really matters, that mattered most when the semifinal showdown between our two countries took place last week:
It means more to them than it does to us. It’s not just a game up there, it’s a religion, or close to it. And when Canadian teams play for their country, they’re also playing a game that is truly theirs. They take that designation seriously, protect it fiercely and play ferociously. After all, the image of an entire nation is on the line.
This wasn’t just a trip to the Olympics for Team Canada’s men and women, it was a crusade.
The boys from Team USA?
It would have been a daunting task under the best of circumstances, but it’s clear from hearing an array of postgame quotes that the Americans not only didn’t play particularly well, but they weren’t even up for that game:
Ryan Suter: “Yeah we were disappointed we didn’t show up for the game yesterday.”
Zach Parise (team captain): “We didn’t show up to play a tough team….they played like they had something to win and we just shut it down.”
David Backes: "I don't think we laid it all on the line like we needed to do in order to win. They played their butts off, we played pretty hard, but another notch would have done us a lot of good."
Huh? Really?! Another notch?
It all begs several obvious questions:
First, how were these guys from Team USA not sufficiently motivated to play a game that would go a long way toward establishing their legitimacy as an international hockey power?
But the second even more relevant question is, can you imagine anyone on that Canadian team not being ready to play the game of his life? With a guy like Mike Babcock standing behind the bench?
“We came here to compete,” he said before the gold medal game against Sweden, “and we’re going to compete as hard as we can. Sometimes I think we get a little confused. It’s not about who scores the goals, gets the shots or plays….it’s about winning. It’s about Canada, it’s about hockey supremacy. We like to brag that it's our game. If you think so, you better show it’s your game.”
He and his boys did just that, yet again, and it surely didn’t hurt that a day before the Canadian ladies led the way with their inspirational performance against their counterparts from, yup, the USA: Down 2-0 with well under four minutes to go, they tied it up, forced OT and promptly won their 20th straight Olympic game and fourth consecutive gold medal.
When the men arrived in their locker room prior to Sunday’s game against Sweden, this note was waiting for them:
"Guys, tonight is yours. Own the moment. We are proof that every minute matters. The podium is reserved for the brave. Earn every inch, dictate the pace, and go get 'em."
It was signed, “The girls,” and it provided yet another example of what this game means to that country and to every athlete who plays it.
So our girls had to settle for silver, while our guys got bombed by Finland 5-0 in the bronze medal game. No medal at all. The consensus was they just had nothing left after that wrenching and disappointing loss to Canada in the semis.
That was the party line, anyway. But the truth is even before the opening faceoff for that game, the Canadians cared more, they wanted it more, and it simply meant and means more. By a wide margin.
Maybe between now and the next international showdown we’ll figure out a way to “show up” and ratchet it up “another notch.”
Then again, maybe not.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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