27 Feb, 2010
Hockey Players Rock the 2010 Winter Olympics
I love hockey. I love hockey players. In no other professional sport do you see the majority of the players, including the superstars, playing for the love of the game. Thank God they’re not like professional basketball players. There’s no cashing in and then riding the gravy train. Hockey players bring their A-game every game they play, every minute they play.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when watching them represent their countries at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. These guys don’t have to play in the Olympics, risking injury. Just ask the NBA stars who demur when invited to represent the United States at the Olympic games.
I’m not saying hockey players don’t like the paycheck, but they don’t just follow the money. And I firmly believe that these guys would be playing hockey even if they couldn’t play professionally. That’s just what hockey players do – play hockey.
Canadian stars attended camp just hoping for the chance to represent their country. In effect, a high-powered combine featuring some of the biggest names in hockey. The defending Stanley Cup champion’s goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, is playing in the third slot, probably won’t see any ice time, and was thrilled just to be invited.
Team USA followed a similiar process and is bringing relative unknowns to the forefront along with headliner young players like Patrick Kane and Zach Parise and veterans like Brian Rafalski and Chris Drury. Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas,35, said he has dreamed of playing in the Olympics for 30 years and was happy to get his 8 1/2 minutes in goal.
Canadian and American players skated like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup in their round-robin matchup last Sunday. The passion was obvious and no one was holding anything back. Underdog Slovakia battled furiously to the final horn against front-runner Canada in their quest for a chance at a gold medal.
Russian stars Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk responded to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s non-committal attitude toward participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympics by saying that they would play for their country regardless of the NHL’s decision. Representing their countries obviously means something special to these players.
You can see that these guys are not just in it for the money. Take a look at the contracts the NHL stars sign. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin took far less than they could get on the open market to allow salary cap space to keep their young team together. The Sedin brothers accepted contracts that may not have delivered their top dollar payout but allowed them to keep their families in Vancouver with no-move clauses.
Marian Hossa turned down a lucrative 7 year contract to stay with the Penguins and instead went to Detroit on a one-year contract in hopes of garnering a Stanley Cup win. (Full disclosure: I fervently called Hossa a whore at the time for not sticking with the Pens. And I was ecstatic when the Penguins beat the Redwings. Karma and all that. Just sayin…)
Contrast this all with the way the NBA superstars, making 3 times as much as the top NHL players, refuse to play, demand to be traded, and generally show their entitled butts. Many of them refuse to represent the United States in Olympic competition. Shaquille O’Neal played in 1996 but said he would only play on the 2004 squad if Phil Jackson coached. Seriously?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban dissed all the Olympic athletes, proud to be competing for their countries, telling the Dallas Morning News:
“If the Olympics were truly a nationalistic endeavor built on sport and part of the public domain, I would be willing to take risk and support their playing. What I don’t like is that we lie to ourselves and pretend that the Olympians represent our country.”
Try telling that to the members of the U.S.A. and Canada Olympic hockey teams as they prepare to contend for the Olympic gold medal on Sunday.