Column: IOC needs to use amature hockey players
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 23:02
Let me preface this by saying it will almost certainly not happen.
In my perfect world, NHL players are banned from competing in the Olympics. Oh, and KHL and other professional players are banned too.
In my perfect world, only amateur players are allowed to play in the world’s biggest international hockey competition.
Why? Because it means more to them.
Conjure up some images of “Miracle” for a moment—the intense tryouts, training camps and practices. For them, the Olympics were more than just a two-week break from their day job as a professional player. For them, Team USA was the ultimate; the team deserved, and received, their complete and utter devotion.
If you’ve ever watched the IIHF World Junior Championships, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that amateur teams just have a different feel to them than teams made up solely of professionals.
For professionals, many of their USA Hockey teammates are typically their enemies; they have put aside rivalries and discrepancies for just a few weeks. As a fan, it can be incredibly difficult to stomach rooting for a hated NHL rival or rooting against a favorite from another country.
Think about the 2010 Olympics: How many Penguins fans had to root against Sidney Crosby for two weeks? And how many of them felt weirdly conflicted when he scored the overtime game-winner against the U.S. in the gold medal game?
Yes, professional players still care about performing well at the Olympics because they take a certain sense of pride in representing their country. But when it comes down to it, as NHL stars, their ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, not an Olympic medal.
Watching amateur teams is just a different feel. Yes, some of them may have played against one another in college or junior leagues along the way. But typically, these players have been together within USA Hockey long enough to have formed a special bond with one another.
Even though they may meet up only sporadically to play in tournaments along the way, the fact that amateur teams play together repeatedly gives the team a whole heck of a lot more of an “organic team” feel than the “all-star team” feel of professional-based squads. Plus, the chemistry that comes with having played together before shows up in these events and the familiarity on the ice yields some fantastic team play.
Quite simply, I couldn’t agree more with the final line of “Miracle.” After the 1980 Olympics, so-called “dream teams” made up of pro players became allowable and became the norm. But frankly, seeing glorified all-star teams is far from a dream for me.
The stunning upsets and the pride that comes with rooting for a team that’s so organically grown and so much more intrinsically tied to USA Hockey is often lost in the modern-day Olympic hockey tournament.
So please, IOC, do us all a favor and make the Olympics an amateur tournament again. I know it’s unlikely, but allow us to dream again.