Have yourself a merry little Olympics

I have to say I’m having trouble getting into that spirit of the season.
The Christmas season, you ask? Certainly not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my eight months here, it’s the community’s ability to celebrate any occasion.
If it’s not “Fun in the Sun,” then it’s a “Scott Street Scare.” From Christmas cantatas, concerts, parades, fundraisers, and craft sales, you folks clearly know how to ring in a season.
The season I feel disconnected with is more of the warm fuzzy “let’s analyze the Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team and put immeasurable pounds of pressure on the tournament’s significance as if our very cultural fabric depended on it” season.
Now don’t get me wrong. The 23-player roster, the balance of which was announced with great fanfare Saturday afternoon at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, looks very good and I certainly hope the boys win the gold and pull that 50-year-old monkey off the program’s back.
But really, it’s not the end of the world if this “dream” team does not perform up to snuff. I was never a fan of bringing NHL players to these tournaments in the first place. For me, the Winter Olympics have always been an opportunity for the other sports to get the spotlight for a change.
Figure skating, speed skating, and biathlon enjoyed their only two weeks in the general public’s consciousness.
Watching Canada’s performance at the 1998 Olympic hockey tourney in Nagano, Japan appeared gruelling because, frankly, it was. These players were yanked out of their 86-game NHL season to fly halfway across the world and compete in a two-week tournament on a larger ice surface.
Not to make four-year old excuses, but I can see why they struggled towards a fourth-place finish.
Of course, in years past, our national team comprised of minor league players and prospects. And these teams had come very close to winning it all before Nagano.
The one time the Canadian Olympic hockey team did catch my eye was during the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. Goalie Sean Burke led a group of unwanted third-liners (Dave Archibald, anyone?) and one budding superstar—Eric Lindros—to a silver medal.
It was great to follow them because the players, which also included former Fort Frances puckster Chris Lindberg, didn’t put their seasons on hold. Playing on Team Canada was their first—and only—priority. They played every tournament and exhibition game leading up to the Games.
And while they settled for silver, I could honestly call them a team when they came back home.
For those who so badly want their pro “dream teams” to compete on the international level, the solution is simple: bring back the Canada/World Cup! It was held during the NHL’s off-season so there was some time for training camp and exhibition games.
And oh, the memories. Who can forget Wayne Gretzky streaking down the right wing and flipping the puck to Mario Lemieux for the Cup-winner against the Soviets in 1987?
Or Brett Hull tipping a high point shot past Curtis Joseph for one of two late goals to help the United States edge Canada 5-2 in the third-and-deciding game of 1996 final?
Sorry. Bringing that one up wasn’t very festive of me.
• • •
Keep an eye on the Canadian Press’ year-end sports awards named at the end of the month. The honourees are selected by sportswriters from across the country.
Some may say it’s just another forum used by us self-important sports hacks to exert what little power we have. And to those critics I say: darn right.
I give you my “Canadian . . . of the year” picks, officially sent in last week: Colorado Avalanche centre and Burnaby’s own Joe Sakic (male), speed skater Catriona Le May Doan (female) and university football’s St. Mary’s Huskies (team).
One problem. CP doesn’t give out prizes for those who correctly pick all three correctly.
Not even a snazzy pen—or a logo-enshrined mug. If I happen to choose all three correctly, you are all welcome to get me something nice.
Two out of three (which according to Meatloaf, ain’t bad) is worth at least a slab of stale Christmas fruitcake—complete with those tasty unidentifiable green bits.
In the meantime, stay tuned to your Times’ year in review in this section next week. There’s a good chance you’ll see the first-ever “unofficial” Rainy River District best of 2001 awards. But I shan’t give too much away before then.
Season’s greetings and all things in between from your friendly neighbourhood sports section.

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