Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Pleasures

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.


Anonymous said...

I was really pissed at Markov when I saw him skate with his Russian teammates, on Monday. I don't know what part of his body was so hurt that he couldn't play during the week-end but he definitely looked pretty good, on the ice.

Didn't something like that also happened a few years back ?

I don't want to sound like Don The Clown but it seems obvious that a gold medal is more appealing to many Europeans players (Russians in particular) than a Stanley Cup ring.

J.T. said...

@anon: I think you can let the anger go when it comes to Markov. He's never done anything to make us believe he cares more about the Olympics than the Habs. In fact, he's been incredibly loyal to the Canadiens. I think there's a difference between playing a game with a strain or muscle tear three or four days ago and practicing today. He actually skated with his teammates in Montreal too, but wasn't good enough to go. I think Andrei Markov has done enough for the Habs that we owe him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his health.

I agree the gold medal may be more important to some European players, but I suspect they're the ones who actually play in Europe. If a guy comes to North America and learns a new language and culture, and puts up with the physical and emotional grind of an NHL season I think it's fair to say he probably would really like to win the Stanley Cup.

Mr. Mills said...

This is a long post that I put up over at HI/O in solidarity for the call to civility. Having read the the 400+ comments on that thread, I can see my intentions were futile. Given that the level of discourse is better at J.T.'s site (thanks J.T.!) I thought I'd post it here. It echoes some of what J.T said (I swear it's a case of like minded folks agreeing and not plagiarism-- this was posted yesterday afternoon).

In the spirit of renewed civility, I'm choosing to post this here at HI/O.

[Please forgive me if you have heard these arguments before.] I have absolutely no problem with Markov choosing to sit two games out leading into the Olympic break. My reasoning is this. Markov is our top player and most dominant force. For those fans aching for some bigger, tougher bodies... you have to ask yourself how tough it is to play against an elite player like Markov. There are all kinds of toughness, and I'm more of a Markovite than a Phanatic.

Recognizing this, and keeping in mind our incessant complaints about wasted or mismanaged players, it is just good personnel management to allow Markov to play for his home country on the world's largest stage. For those whose bias against Markov is bathed in the idea of contractual obligations, are you comfortable making money the only reason Markov (or any player) would want to play in Montreal? I suppose you're also against players giving hometown discounts too.

In a market where there's always the next problem (or have I been missing all the positive posts on here this season?) the idea that we would begrudge Markov the chance at 1 once every 4 years glory is all too predictable. The man is a world class talent, and if you don't think the Montreal Canadiens should do everything in their power to showcase him to the world, again, ask yourselves if your're willing to close up the hospitality services to all-star defencemen and Russian phenoms the league over. Markov is the player who most consistently contributes to the joy we take in watching Habs' victories. He has to be accorded the respect both his abilities and his idealism deserve.

The plea to civility called for on HI/O ought not necessarily be limited to a finer sense of diction. It could someday even extend to our treatment of our players too.

dusty said...

And don't forget the sheer joy of corporate competition for the billions of tax payer dollars wasted on security and useless constrution at the expense of social services for the community. I'm thrilled that a bunch of millionaire NHLer's can compete for a gold medal.

Hooray for the IOC!

Patrick said...

Amen to your 10 reasons list.

Number 9 stood out in my opinion! It's great to root for a powerhouse... Even if only for 2 weeks.

V said...

OK. This might get me banned from this site, but here goes.

I am a sucker for underdogs and inevitably find myself rooting against powerhouses of any kind... especially when their bluster gets under my skin. It usually means that 2 games into a series that involves Team Canada, I wind up rooting for someone else - particularly when that someone else has a Hab in their line-up.

In this case, the storyline (team) I find most compelling is Russia. Here are five reasons:

- Markov. It's great to see a Hab on the international stage.
- A Russian win might cause Don Cherry's head to explode. Anything with that kind of cathartic potential is very compelling.
- Ovechkin. Ever since the Canadian juniors mugged him in the final a couple of years ago, I have been fascinated by his quest for justice... beating Canada in Canada would be the ultimate pay-back and a blow for the chaos, anarchy and disturbing beauty his play represents. He presents too stark a contrast to the blandness of the Olympic image for me to resist.
- Markov
- Own the Podium. Look, I think it's great we want to do our best. I am all for it. But why not just be as circumspect as we usually are and after the Olympics mutter in an aw-shucks kind of way 'hey, looks like we kind of went and owned the podium. Sorry.' Own the Podium feels like a meaningless phrase developed in focus groups by 'corporate communications professionals' that never ring true because they aren't. I hope Canada wins the most medals. I hope our atheletes fulfill their dreams. But I don't want to Own the Podium because I am perfectly happy sharing it with the rest of the world.

Go Team Canada Go.

J.T. said...

@dusty: Aw...I know there are terrible injustices in the world and the money spent on the Olympics is one of them, assuming the money MADE from the Olympics doesn't go to helping people who live in the Vancouver area. But it's spent now, so I'm going to enjoy the sports anyway.

@V: I confess, I cheer for Team Canada, but when the underdog beats Team Canada, I don't really mind. I like the Russians too. And the Slovaks, the Swiss and the Czechs. Not overly keen on the Americans, but I like lots of teams.

moeman said...

Great post. It will be fun cheering Team Canada, even with Pronger in our line-up. I also like the idea of watching Canadiens players like Markov and Plekanec on the international stage. Enjoy the Games!

dusty said...

@J.T. Fair enough, enjoy away. But you can be sure the money MADE funnels up to Hotel owners, restaurant owners, politicians, V.I.P's from around the world, construction and real estate developers and let's not forget the hookers (maybe I'll get some Viagra stock). As far as the general public goes, they will shoulder the 7+ billion dollars in debt all for the pleasure of sitting in front a TV set and being bombarded with mind numbing commercials to enrich the lucky network that bought the games.

Thanks for the top 10 reasons, they were fun to read and I appreciate the hard work that goes into posting them. Just wanted to add my 1 reason why I don't give a crap about Oympic hockey.

I'll be glad when the Habs return, hopefully healthier and better able to compete. Thanks again and enoy.

Shan said...

We should be happy for Markov.

Besides would YOU miss the Olympics so that you are in a little better shape for the Habs? That would be silly.