Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Un-Canadian Confession

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.

13 comments:

Topham said...

You make an excellent point, and I don't think an un-Canadian one.

Watching a team gel and come together is a joy to watch. Canada has he chance to do the same, only that they decided that cruising into the round-robin was a good idea. I expect them to get their arms around each other come a semi or a gold medal game if they're good enough to hang on till then this time.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Perhaps Team Canada does not deserve to be called that, yet. "The Canadians" seems more appropriate.

CheG said...

Hah - I was reminded of Habs games watching the Swiss last night, and I too, empathized with them. I'm a bit torn by these games - I really feel it would be a pity for Canada to not win "on home soil" but I find some of their stars to just be big goons. Oh well, I can still enjoy wholeheartedly cheering Slovakia against Russia, and so on..

Kyle Roussel said...

There's no doubt that team chemistry counts for a whole lot...your sentiment is certainly not un-Canadian. Like you said, the shootout said it all. The Swiss team was "together" and looking like a team. The Canadians were either feeling the pressure and reflecting inward, or are, as some think, a group of mercenaries that don't really care all that much for one another, and just want a gold medal.

As much as I was pulling for Canada, it's hard to dislike the Swiss.

Couple this with the Slovakia upset, and it's clear that the rest of the world is catching up to the world powers.

jaybo said...

How can you not cheer for an underdog? I would have been happy to see them win in the shootout. Maybe hand a dose of reality to the millionaires
club.

DB said...

Last night I thought the Swiss played the kind of uptempo aggressive game I wish the Habs played. Being 2 inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter on average didn't stop the Swiss from aggressively checking Canada in all zones.

I kept thinking is this how the Bulldogs play and why isn't the Swiss coach coaching in the NHL.

Anonymous said...

Who can blame any fan for liking a well-played hockey game? And who can blame any Canadian hockey fan for thinking our team made it a little easier for the Swiss.

Salary aside, our team is full of alpha give-me-the-puck players with very few other parts. Some pre-eminent setup men for sure ... but I think Hockey Canada has gone way to the other side of character and role players which apparently failed us in "that dark time".

Toews, Bergeron and Morrow were, for me, our best forwards last night. They paid the price, ground it out and were a joy to watch. After that, you had to go all the way back to the goal to find someone who was playing with passion and fire.

Go Switzerland, Go Slovakia and Go Finland! (Uh, in case it is not obvious, passionate, underdog teams.)

commentvatonclub said...

A quick note: don't worry so much about team spirit on this Canadien team. Most of these guys had great chemistry on the famous '05 junior squad. After 2-3 games, they'll be more than ok.

Anonymous said...

You menioned Paul DiPietro playing for Switzerland at one point. What ever happened to him? I remember DiPietro was a key guy in the '93 Cup run. Can anyone give a refesher?

The Forum said...

I noticed the Swiss team as well during the shootout. Made me feel sad we have become as you put so eloquently "corporate hockey juggernaut"

DKerr said...

JT,

Sitting here in the US, I am just not as enthralled with Olympic hockey the way I used to be. Maybe I'll heat up for the medal rounds. I just don't get thrilled about seeing laboratory experiments in chemistry with these star players. As a poster stated, they may get to be the same way as the Swiss team in 2 or 3 more games, but I always identify a player with his NHL jersey.

I think part of the problem with the Olympics was everyone was tired of the Soviets marching out their payed amateurs (sp) and whipping through the tournament. That is what made the 1980 team so special - that is all gone now, for better or for worse. I liked the National team program that Canada and the US used in other Olympics - kind of an older version of the WJC. I remember Corey Hirsch against Sweden (Forsberg was the difference, better than Kariya at the time) playing his heart out and a guy like Todd Hlushko laying the body out like it was the last game he would ever play. Those young men were parts of teams thar were groomed throughout a season to represent their country for the Olympics. I like that version better.

In the NHL format, Canada gains little in victory and loses too much in defeat (ie How could they not win with all that talent? or How could they lose with all that talent?) I could identify better with the national program players because they made a commitment to the program and the team, which is difficult for NHL players accomplish in such a short time span.

Yes, the best talent in the world is on display, but as you pointed out so well, hockey is a team game and Canada beat the Swiss in a skills competition (which is why it will never be used in the Stanley Cup playoffs).

Thanks for another great post.

Shan said...

Yeah, I agree. I, too, find myself cheering for the Swiss. For a number of reasons, they seem like "the good guys".

And our team is like an all-star team, but the team strategy is thrown together. There isn't a system that the players learn, they're just told a couple game objectives and expected to put it together. Imagine they all practiced and learned a system and came together as a team... we'd be much harder to beat. What we look for as "chemistry" might be more accurately called "guys knowing how to play with each other", and so far we have a bunch of superstars that don't really have that, they have their own individual styles.

Perhaps the weight of a nation itself will bring them together and they might develop a bit better team play in the next few days. Fortunately, individual talent could carry these players far enough. Canada produces the best hockey players, but to prove that at the Olympics, we'll need to show we have the best team... and somehow winning a few games makes that believable.

Anonymous said...

"It's a team game, and a team will beat a collection of individuals every time."

Great point.

Homme de Sept-Iles