Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Olympic 2014 Postscript
Bob Stark

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less

C. S. Lewis

 

It’s Saturday evening, on the eve of the men's gold medal hockey game. I’m sitting at Clobber Landing contemplating whether to (a) stay up all night, (b) go to bed and set the alarm for the middle of the friggin' night or (c) get the ole science project ready to tape the game and get up at my usual time.

Clobber Landing, as you may know, is located on the West Coast of "Can-a-da, we love you" land. The greatest game on bad ice is to start at 4 am. If one wants to see Donald S and the other, "this is our game," CBC Clan for the pre-game hazing ritual, one will have to be awake, toothpicks propping the eyes open, and sitting in front of the electronic aquarium, after remembering to turn it on at 3 am.

The danger in taping the game for viewing at a later time is fraught with several difficulties, not the least of which would be to hear the neighbourhood rising up in a Chimpanzee group roar, if we won while I'm stuck re-watching the same old ad sequence in the second period, or going up in flames, if we lost. This is Riot City after-all where our city anthem is the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Hey, one of my Eastern brethren, high and transcendent on hockey religion and adult beverages, might start a speed dialing call, e-mailing, Facebook posting or trying to alpine blow horning me from the Gatineau Hills. All modern media devices would need to be turned off or ignored.

More 'hey,' I'm Canadian! This is hocky! This is the Gold Medal Game! I am the Clobber! I have to watch it 'live.'

I don't even have to wait for the alarm clock to awaken me. The hockey gods and the spiritual voices of Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan tug at a sleeping Clobber, "Time to stop hugging your teddy bear and get up”!

It is 2:45 am, time enough to nip down to the local Blenz, on the corner, and grab a cup of my favourite hot brown drink. As I'm returning home, already there are guys loping down the street, beers in hand, like teenage Stanley Park coyotes.  

One feller seems he may have already peaked and awarded the gold medal to his hockey heroes. He doesn't need to see the game. Good thing, he probably will fall asleep five minutes into the first period.

I hear one say to another "Hey! Let's give that guy a beer." meaning moi. Then there is laughter and, alas, no tribal offering. Well, despite the darkness, as I am huddled under my floppy woolen toque, and replete with fuzzy grey beard and hair, I do look a bit like Papa Smurf, which may well explain the guffaws emanating from across the street. I have to settle for my coffee.

Lights are going on. The whole country is in PJs or army fatigues, hockey caps and sweaters, maybe even a hockey stick in hand, on high alert. No one will ever successfully invade this country, especially at night, in the middle of a hockey game! We are armed and dangerous.

Well, we all know how the story ends. Canada shuts-out the fragile Swedes 3-0 and repeats as Gold Medal winners. The country can once again wax poetic about hockey being "our game" while all is forgotten about the various criticisms of our team going into the Olympics and/or all along the way. In Canada, hockey sticks easily morph into pitchforks when things aren't going well on the ice; duct tape is for public hangings.

It is simple really to analyse our success. The brain trust was right, in both their selections and how they got this team of individuals to play as a team; kudos to every player who bought in to the system. When it became evident that the players were not going to be the offensive juggernaut many envisioned, the coaches opted for Plan B, play offensive defensive hockey. Put the pedal to the metal. Forecheck, back check, win all battles along the boards. Stay fresh. Change lines every 20-30s seconds. Play all four lines. Let Carey Price stand on guard for thee.

As the US head coach said after the semi-final, when Rick Nash is on the fourth line you know trying to match lines is a foggy proposition.

Once we had closed-down the high-octane Yankee offence and sent them packing, there was little doubt that if we brought the same game to the rink for the Gold Medal game, the Fat Lady wouldn't even have to warm-up.

Still, one never knows. One bounce, one mistake and things could have been different.

For me, even after Sid “The Kid” scored on a breakaway to make it 2-0, I wasn't waving the flag. Most of the CBC broadcast crew were convinced the game was over.

I wasn't. They were right. Alas, so was I. It ain't over till it's over. Didn't we learn that a few days earlier when the women's team were down 2-0 in their Gold Medal game?

Even when the men had a shaky 1-0 lead on the US, Glenn Healy was saying something like, “One more goal and game over.” What arrogance.

It was still the 2nd Period! At the start of the Latvian game, Healy was on about what a blowout it was going to be. We faced a goalie who decided to have the game of his life. Canada scored two goals and snuck by the annoying Latvians. That was when we found out who we were as a hockey team. Then the women had their remarkable, game of the Olympics, moment; no pressure boys!

Alas, I do not wish to single Glenn Healy out for his predestination, in a religious-like fervor. This is part of the Canadian fabric. It doesn't matter that we've been embarrassed before, in Nagano and in Turin, every time Canadians put on the red, white and black, expecting we'll manhandle any opposition. Dear boys, one bad bounce and the Latvians, ranked 11th in the world, would have sent us home before the semi-finals.

As Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said, hockey, like most sports, is a game of inches. If the Finns had not lost their three top centers and then Rask for the semi-final against Sweden or if Sweden had not lost four of its best players, including Backstrum two hours before puck drop on Sunday, we may have been facing a different kettle of Olympic-sized pirogues. I think we probably would have won in either of those scenarios but always remember it's a 60 Minute game. There is no room for coitus interruptus. Ya must keep plugging away till the moo cows come home to moo.

This team may be one of the best Olympic teams Canada has had, but it learned how to win, as it did four years ago in Vancouver.

We should rightly praise and celebrate their success but, as I have said many times before, the myth that this is "our game" is an old and shabby one that no longer becomes us as a nation. And I pray we do not fall victim to a national attitude akin to the American one of 'exceptionalism.' Poppycock. We won. Let's not gloat.

There is much to celebrate about "Putin's Games." Alas, one game at The Bolshoi Arena on Sunday, surely, I thought, the ice will be excellent for the gold medal game! Sigh. Obviously, the Rooskies spent their money on whips with which to crack the members of Pussy Riot. The new Russia is much like the old Russia.

Tonight, back here on North American soil and ice, there is an NHL game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres. I bet that stirs the cockles, eh; I'd rather watch Slovenia and Latvia.

Back to bash and bang and the other myths, that the NHL is the best league in the world and, forgive me Coal Harbour, that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. He's the best player in the NHL. He played very well in Sochi and his goal was probably another 'golden goal'. The best player in the world was Teemu Selanne, at age 43. What a way to end a monumental career on the International stage.

Here’s my men's hockey Olympic All-stars.

Teemu Selanne - Finland

Jonathan Toews - Canada

Phil Kessel - USA

Drew Doughty - Canada

Erik Karlsson - Sweden

Carey Price - Canada

Kudos to the Slovenians, T.J. Oche who won the shutout against the Rooskies, in a remarkable individual performance, and that little Latvian goalie! Has he recovered yet?

So long 'Wick,' as your team mates call you. What you've done for women's hockey, first in this country and then around the world, deserves more than another gold medal.

And, R.I.P Sarah Burke. Your legacy and ashes will always be a part of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

We may not have owned the podium but all those little Canadian moments both on and off the 'playing field' are what should really make us proud to be Canadian.

Don't forget to watch the Para-Olympics. Go Canada Go!

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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