For many Habs fans, the two-week Olympic break is akin to a break from purgatory. We've spent a nerve-wracking 63 games in the soul-tormenting land between hockey heaven and hockey hell, and we need a break. But the Olympics can offer more than just that. Here are the top ten reasons why the Olympics can be good for Habs fans:
10. The Games give us a chance to cheer for players we hate most of the time. Okay, I know a lot of you really like Martin Brodeur. He's one of the best goalies, by the numbers, who ever played. I admit that. However, I can't stand him. He's beaten the Habs painfully too many times and taken too much personal pleasure out of it. Plus, I read his book and I hated the tone of it. Anyway, all that aside, the fact that Brodeur is wearing a Team Canada sweater forces me to cheer for him. I think that's a good thing because someday, when the pain of his ownership of the Habs has faded, I can better appreciate his accomplishments if I see them as a fan would, for even a little while.
9. The Olympics offer us a glimpse of how the other half lives. It's really nice, for two weeks in the middle of this wretched year, to cheer for an awesome powerhouse. It must be how Caps fans, or 'Hawks fans or Habs fans from the '70s must feel. I like it. It's enough to make you cocky and feel a bit superior, as a pleasant change from the emotional cowering in which we usually indulge.
8. Immense talent to watch. Even if there's something of an overblown All-Star game feel to the Olympic tournament, you can't help admiring a lineup that can put the likes of Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Kovalchuk on the ice with Markov and Gonchar. That's some awesome firepower, and it's going to be absolutely glorious to watch them together.
7. Blowouts. I know a lot of people think the excellent teams should lay off when they're up by a touchdown and give their poor opponents like Latvia or Norway a break. I say, let 'er rip! It's FUN to see how many goals a team can score. I want to see if Russia can hit the two-dozen mark against Belarus. On the serious side of the pro-blowout argument though, there's the reality of the total-goals tiebreaker that could have meaning later in the tournament. I also buy the opinion that taking it easy on weak teams doesn't give them a true measure of what they've got to do to get better. Sweden and Finland used to get blown out once upon a time too, but look at them now.
6. Rested players. The Habs' success relies heavily on the team's old farts. If Glen Metropolit, Jaro Spacek and Roman Hamrlik can get two weeks of R&R to recover their legs and their energy for the last nineteen games of the season, it will be very helpful.
5. Recovery time. The two-week break essentially reduces injuries by two weeks. If Cammalleri was to miss six weeks with his knee injury, the Olympic break means it's only four weeks of actual season time. With any luck at all, the extra two weeks will mean Pouliot and Kostitsyn will be back right away when play resumes and Cammalleri not long after.
4. A mental break. Months of watching your team sustain injury after injury and lose game after game as it spirals down the standings makes us testy. We start sniping at each other and becoming obsessed with minutiae like whether Carey Price's five hole or Jaro Halak's rebound control is worse. We need two weeks of forced time off from the Canadiens to recalibrate ourselves mentally.
3. The wide world of sports. Sometimes we get so obsessed with hockey, and with only one team, that we forget there are other teams and other sports to enjoy. The Olympics remind us about speed skating, snowboarding, bobsleigh and skiing. There are a lot of games to enjoy and a lot of athletes who put their lives on hold for the pure love of sport and competition. It's refreshing to watch women play hockey at a high level, and to see a kid come from nowhere to stand on top of the podium. Watching the Olympics puts NHL hockey, and the Canadiens' role in it, into a kind of global sporting perspective. That's a good thing.
2. Friendly tampering. Andrei Markov is a star on the Russian team's back end, and he's a great ambassador for the Canadiens. Having him share a blueline with Habs prospect Konstantin Korneev is a great opportunity to sell the idea that moving to Montreal would be good for the kid. It'd certainly be good for the Habs. It also wouldn't hurt Anton Volchenkov, who's UFA in July, to enjoy playing with Markov so much he'll be listening when the Habs go hunting for a solid defensive defenceman. Bettman can't call it tampering if Olympic teammates talk up their NHL cities a bit at practice, can he?
And, the number one reason why Habs fans should enjoy the Olympics:
1. Happiness. We've had little enough reason to enjoy being fans this year. For two blessed weeks, we can be fans of winners again. We can cheer our heads off when our athletes win, and we can be smilingly proud when they don't win but we know they gave it everything they had. The Games give us something to smile about even when the reality of our team's difficulties come back to the forefront of our minds again. For the next two weeks, we step outside of ourselves as Montreal Canadiens fans and root for Team Canada with joyful abandon. I'm enjoying it already.