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April 23, 2014

Friday, December 14, 2001

Olympic hockey is still a team game

By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
 The great hockey debate has been long and loud and oh so meaningless. About who should and who shouldn't play for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics.

 About how this team should and will be formed.

 Television, the new king of overkill, will devote hours to the final roster being named tomorrow. On more than one network. Pages upon pages will be written about it in the newspapers. Call-in shows all across the country will discuss the relative merits of Joe Nieuwendyk.

 And every word written, every word spoken, will be sincere and earnest and almost all of it will be lacking in Olympic hockey context.

 Because individuals don't win hockey medals -- teams do.

 Because it doesn't matter who the 23 players are -- any from a group of 35 Canadians would do -- it matters how they come together without preparation and practice for a most unforgiving tournament.

 If you go back four years ago and remember what happened and didn't happen in Nagano, the best collection of players didn't win. The best team did.

 And Robert Reichel scored three goals for the gold medal-winning Czech Republic team.

 The Robert Reichel?

 The frustrating Maple Leaf?

 The guy who couldn't make Team Canada in his dreams?

 But he scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Theo Fleury combined.

 He scored more goals than Eric Lindros or Brendan Shanahan or Rod Brind'Amour or Joe Sakic.

 That's what happens at the Olympics. Heroes come from the least expected places.

 Reichel was a key player on a gold medal team but he wasn't alone.

 One of the best players on that Czech team was winger Josef Beranek. The very Josef Beranek who has been little more than a marginal player when he worked in the National Hockey League.

 The Josef Beranek who has been traded on occasion for the likes of Shawn Antoski, German Titov, Bobby Dollas, Tony Hrkac, Brian Benning and Greg Hawgood.

 That Beranek.

 Two of the best defencemen at the 1998 Olympics happened to be Jiri Slegr and Petr Svoboda. Both were part-time players in the NHL at the time.

 Slegr, Svoboda, Beranek and Reichel would never, ever have been considered for the Canadian team, had they been eligible.

 But in an Olympic tournament, in a high-risk situation, where there is little room for error, they performed extraordinarily well.

 The way any Canadian picked to the team -- or any of the talents who will be left off, such as Joe Thornton or Jeff O'Neill -- would under similar circumstances.

 It isn't only the Olympic format that's different. It's the larger ice surface. It's the style of play. It's decision making.

 It's getting off an airplane, lining up for credentials, checking into the athletes village, and becoming a team all in a matter of minutes.

 There's no time to get used to each other.

 There's no period of adjustment.

 You go. You get there. You perform. And somehow you hope for the best.

 Olympic hockey rarely has been about the best players winning on the best team. It's about reacting. It's about not getting behind, because once you do, you're done.

 Look at the Americans. One of the weakest teams they've sent to the Olympics wound up winning gold in 1980. One of the strongest teams won nothing.

 All people talk about now is the great Miracle On Ice, not realizing the U.S. team was being kicked around just prior to the Games.

 But suddenly, a bounce went the Americans' way, a save was made, a team grew together and a gold medal was theirs.

 Beating a Russian team that kicked them all over the ice just weeks before the Games.

 Eight years later, the Americans sent an explosive team to the Calgary Olympics with emerging talents such as Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. Head to head, the 1988 team was far superior to the '80 team. Except the '80 team won gold and the '88 won nothing.

 The '88 team started badly, finished badly, went home from Calgary terribly disappointed.

 All this should be kept in mind when the Canadian team is finally announced tomorrow. As the debate of the insignificant rages on. XT BELOW HERE-->

2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage

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