Sunday, February 23, 2014

Oh well.

That tweet went out right after the United States lost to Canada in the men's ice hockey semi-finals in Sochi Winter Olympics.

Permit me to come clean. I really, really, really don't like the idea of professional athletes in the Olympics.  I totally understand why it happened, what with the six TOTAL medals coming out of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the Steinbrenner Commission's ensuing "Just WIN, baby" report that led to The Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992 and the IIHF (slowly) following suit with NHL players in 2002's Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.  It's gone on from there and, I presume, won't stop even though the owners are increasingly incensed that they can't make a buck off of the Olympics beyond tie-in events like the forthcoming Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Penguins (which I understand from this link also ties in with Hockey Weekend Across America - who knew?).

My objections are twofold.  First, and I fully expect anyone not cognizant of the world around them in 1980 to appreciate this: The Miracle on Ice was transcendent, and it was accomplished with college kids.  These kids took time off of school, dedicated themselves for months (years?) to the national team, and lived, ate and breathed Olympics.  They then went out and somehow figured out a way to beat a team of might-as-well-be-professionals from the Soviet Union.  (This would be the same Soviet Union that scared us normal Americans out of our minds.  They were liable to nuke us at any random point, for pete's sake!)  For whatever reason, sports was used as a proxy to help fight that insane Cold War, and our kids beat their adults.  It was monumental.  Epic.  It was one of those moments where you remember exactly where you were; I sure do.

Beyond those admittedly romantic notions of amateurs playing for the good of sport, untainted by filthy lucre, there's the more pragmatic issue.  These professionals, they're under contract to their employers.  They're expected to play - and win - for their employers.  This Olympic thing has absolutely nothing to do with the work of their employers beyond, again, ancillary public relations benefit.  For a better appreciation of the whole issue of split loyalty thing from the players' perspective, go read Harrison Mooney's piece on the subject.  And then read it about five or six more times.

(On a side note, the women's final provided a much greater feel of a purer amateur game.  Perhaps that's because the ladies realized that they wouldn't see a stage approaching this magnitude for another four years, unlike their male counterparts.)

Next, note that Fedor Tyutin (and John Tavares, Paul Martin and Henrik I missing anyone?) went over to Sochi and got hurt, which hurts his employer.  There just isn't another top four-ish blue liner sitting on the shelf, waiting for Jarmo Kekalainen to plug him in.  So make no bones about it: Putting the apparent psychological wounds suffered by the four Russian Olympians on the CBJ roster aside, the 2014 Olympics were - by any objective measure - bad for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The team has been diminished by its players participation.

But the pros are in the Olympics.  I was rooting for the USA, like hopefully all Americans who give a hoot about the Olympics and/or hockey would.  Team USA lost, though, and I tweeted the above.  In my mind, the Olympic run was over.  Oh well.

I appreciate that the formality of the bronze medal game was still out there, but This Is America.  You go big or go home.  You play to win.  Second place is the first loser.  I don't even know what third place is.  As such, I'm totally un-surprised that the Americans lost to the Finns for the bronze.  (I will admit being surprised at the magnitude of the score.  There probably was something else at play in addition to being deflated.)

With the Olympic distraction effectively over, I am excited for the Columbus Blue Jackets' stretch run.  I didn't know about Tyutin's injury when I wrote this piece over at FOX Sports Ohio, but the last 24 regular season games are shaping up to be a challenging but fair test of the CBJ's mettle.

If the CBJ make the Stanley Cup playoffs, they'll have earned their way in.  No more "Oh wells" here.  Here, we've got professionals playing in their element for the very prize that their contracts incent them to pursue.

These final 24 games - not the Olympics - are where it gets good.

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