I like the Swiss. There. I said it. I loved Mark Streit when he was a Canadien because he always worked hard and graciously took on any job he was assigned, even when it meant playing forward for the first time in his life. I like Yannick Weber because I think he'll be a good player when he matures a little more. And I like Team Switzerland.
I know I'm supposed to cheer for Team Canada, but I have to say it's not easy when they're playing an underdog team full of Swiss-A League players who will never see paycheques ending with the number of zeroes the lowest of the NHLers gets. I saw a stat yesterday that says Team Canada makes a combined total of 128-million bucks. That kind of dough makes our guys something more like a corporate hockey juggernaut than it does a hockey team. Yeah, yeah...I know the passion is there, and they all love Canada and they really, really want a gold medal. But they're still a bunch of rich guys who were thrown together at the last minute with the goal of steamrollering every other team in the competition. I don't know about you, but I have to smile a little bit when one of the cannon-fodder teams sitting in the way of Team Canada getting what it wants stands up and resists.
Taking Canada to a shootout last night with a nice comeback from a 2-0 deficit isn't a one-off for the Swiss either. Nobody will forget the 2-0 shutout with Martin Gerber standing on his head at the Olympics two years ago, with former Hab Paul DiPietro scoring the crucial goals. And one of the best games at the most recent World Junior Championships was the one in which the Swiss kids tied the mighty Russians with thirty seconds to go in the third, then went on to win with twenty seconds left in OT. Both goals were scored by junior star Nino Niederreiter, who was such a force he immediately moved to the top of the list of kids I'd love to see the Habs draft.
The thing about the Swiss that really gets me, though, isn't their relative poverty in comparison to Team Canada, in both salary and talent. It isn't the way they gave everything they had to stay in that game last night, or their plucky, never-say-we're-out attitude. It's the fact that they are a real team. I saw it clearly when the shootout was about to begin. The cameras panned both benches in the moments before the first shooter took the ice. The Canadian players were sitting, hunched over, staring fixedly at the ice. The Swiss guys were standing, arms around each other, mentally willing their guy to beat Brodeur.
That, to me, is what hockey is all about. There's no way a team with the talent and brute firepower of Team Canada should be on equal terms with a team like the Swiss. The x-factor though, was the Swiss players' willingness to go to the wall for each other and do whatever they had to do to win. They remind us hockey isn't a showcase of individual skill or big-salaried players. It's a team game, and a team will beat a collection of individuals every time. The irony, of course, about last night is it took a contest of individual skill to beat a team that had played its heart out all night.
The thing about watching the Swiss stand up to Canada is, it gives you hope if you cheer for a team like the Habs. They prove heart and sacrifice, with a hot goalie and a best player playing at the peak of his ability like Mark Streit was last night, can beat a super power. So, while it's probably un-Canadian to be happy about last night's result, I can't help it. I like a team that plays hockey like a real team. So...I like the Swiss.