They stand on guard—in an Olympic year

Olympic hockey fans may be surprised to hear former Canadian world junior gold-medallist Hnat Domenichelli’s name come up when Canada plays Switzerland on Feb. 18.
The 33-year-old Hartford Whaler fourth-rounder won’t be donning the Maple Leaf. Instead, he’ll suit up for the Swiss as he’s been living and playing in that country for the last seven seasons and was able to score a Swiss passport over the summer.
It’s not the first time a Canadian ex-pat will wear the colours of a land best known for its namesake cheese and hosting of bank accounts. Former Montreal Canadien Paul DiPietro, born in Sault Ste. Marie, wore the white cross back in 2006, scoring both goals as the Swiss blanked Canada 2-0.
With that history, aided by a handful of NHL regulars dotted throughout their 2010 Olympic lineup, the Swiss appear to be climbing up from being a free space on the schedule to being respectable. While the rise is coming in part on the backs of DiPietro and Domenichelli, it’s not like Canada hasn’t shored up its lineups with athletes who are Canucks through technicalities.
Perhaps most impressively, Buffalo Sabres’ rookie defenceman Tyler Myers was an impact player for Canada at the 2009 world junior championships. But Myers was born in Houston, Tex. and lived in the Lone Star State before moving to Calgary at age 12.
Both the Americans and Canadians would have loved to have him in the lineup, which, safe to say, is not the case with Domenichelli. Myers opted for Canadian colours to recognize the role the country played in his development.
Further still, Canada has taken in other country’s castoffs in other sports.
Take baseball. At the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Toronto-born Minnesota Twins’ reliever Jesse Crain pitched for Canada even though he only lived in this country for a few months after he was born. Crain moved to the U.S. after leaving Canada.
Also on the team was then-Kansas City Royals’ slugger Mark Teahen, who grew up in California but has a Canadian father.
Both are good at what they do, but neither of them were a threat to edge out any of the American players.
Crain also was part of the 2006 Canadian squad that upset the Americans 8-6 in the tournament’s preliminary round.
In basketball, Samuel Dalembert of the Philadelphia 76’ers was born in Haiti, and lived there for 14 years, before moving to Montreal. Dalembert became a Canadian citizen in 2007 and joined the Canadian national team in 2008 for the Olympic qualifying tournament.
He clashed with head coach Leo Rautins and was kicked off the team, but with Steve Nash missing the championships, Dalembert at least gave the Canadian team a touch of credibility on its roster while he lasted.
The 2010 roster will get a boost, though, as Concord, N.H. native Matt Bonner, a former Toronto Raptor and current San Antonio Spur, recently received Canadian citizenship and plans on joining the national team.
Bonner was able to apply after marrying a Canadian.
Meanwhile, Canada’s national soccer team is filled with players who were born elsewhere and its coach, Stephen Hart, played for Trinidad and Tobago’s national team.
And even at these Olympic Games, Canada will have a number of athletes who were born outside the country.
Cross-country skier Ivan Babikov, alpine skier Jan Hudec, and bobsledder Lascelles Brown are from Russia, the former Czechoslovakia, and Jamaica, respectively.
Of course, Jamaican-born Donovan Bailey claimed the title of “World’s Fastest Man” while representing Canada at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
If Hnat Domenichelli pulls a Paul DiPietro during the Olympics next month, think of Tyler Myers and Jesse Crain while you’re drowning your sorrows as both helped our country to astounding victories.
Still, there should be a change in policy as to whether an athlete can represent a country, especially in a competition like the Olympics. Say, for example, citizenship and five years of residency.
Under such a system, many of the players, including Domenichelli, still would qualify although players like Bonner, Crain, and Teahen would miss the cut.
There essentially are two very different situations where a foreign-born player may represent a different country. It’s fantastic if immigrants want to represent their new country in competition, but something just feels wrong about essentially parachuting in a player to give the team a boost.
National Post writer Joe O’Connor, weighing in on Domenichelli’s decision, argued that Domenichelli’s citizenship is “convenient” and that the former NHL’er taking a spot on the team is denying a “Swiss-born, Swiss-raised grinder” a chance to represent his country of birth.
O’Connor noted that that’s an opportunity Domenichelli was afforded in 1996 at the world juniors in Boston.
Canada has offered its foreign-born athletes a fresh start, and they proudly suit up with the Maple Leaf. While Domenichelli’s Swiss second chance isn’t in the same ballpark as the new opportunities that Canada has afforded athletes from war-torn and developing countries, the principle is still the same.
If Domenichelli is truly proud to be donning the Swiss colours, and is not just “convenience” as O’Connor calls it, then good for him.
Canadians gladly will take Babikov, Hudec, and Brown wearing Canadian colours in return.

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