There is Nothing More Special Than Olympic Hockey
The ever present cynicism about the NHL All-Star Game is a frequent theme of hockey fans’ snark. The most common critique is that the players don’t care about the outcome.
That it true, but the All-Star Game can be enjoyed for what it is: a spectacle. It will never have the unrivaled grit and passion that real hockey games exude. That absence accounts for the cynicism, as this is what most fans are attracted to, and rightfully so. But you can’t make a player care about the All-Star Game. And technically, you can only make any player care about their professional team as much as they’re being paid to.
Perhaps this is yet another cynical viewpoint, but it is the reality of the situation. Just take a look at what happens when a player gets traded; all prior allegiances and loyalties are instantly reversed with a new signature on their paycheck. Thus we can only surmise that a player cares so long as he’s being paid. Perhaps the only thing spurning any player’s passion is an innate desire to win and be the best.
They’re not born as Red Wings or Penguins or even Maple Leafs. They are, however, born as nationals of their country.
They are born as Americans. They are born as Canadians. They are born as Russians.
It is because they are not paid to be members of this group that makes their allegiance run deeper than they could for any corporation’s logo on their chest. There is no paycheck for being a member of one’s Olympic team. If anything, there is only the danger of losing out on future paychecks due to a serious injury while competing for their country.
Man. If only the NHL could bottle that motivation that drives the players to bleed for their country- not a paycheck- and figure out how to have a regular showcasing of such a competition. Wouldn’t that be great?
Maybe. But as some have written that the stadium series has taken away from the uniqueness and magic of the Winter Classic, so too would any Olympic-like competition from the tournament every four years.
It’s because everything comes together only every four years that it maintains that unique motivation for the players and fans alike. Most players may only get one opportunity to compete in the Olympics in a lifetime. After all, what’s so great about the Stanley Cup is that it is so hard to win. The only thing more elusive or challenging to attain for a hockey player is an Olympic gold medal. Harder than the Stanley cup? Yes.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a marathon. No, scratch that. They are an iron man competition. A full contact iron-man competition.
And while mistakes are incredibly costly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they are even more so in the Olympics. There is no best of seven in the Olympics. Hell, there is not even a best of three. There is no returning to your home arena. After round robin play: lose, and go home. All there is- is performing right now or going home empty handed, and likely never getting another opportunity.
Sure there’s the aspect of patriots and nationalism for one’s country, and that all plays into it in varying degrees depending on the person, the country, maybe even the political climate at the time.
But what remains consistent about this international tournament every four years is that it’s the stage for incredibly fleeting yet potentially everlasting moments.
There are so many moments over the course an NHL career that ultimately make up a legacy. But the rarity of those Olympic moments make them all the more important.
In the Olympics, a single tournament makes up the legacy. That tournament can be defined by one shift.
Who will create a legacy in these Olympics?