He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.
Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.
In episode 12 of XP PSP, Justin Bourne from The Score dropped by to debrief the Sochi 2014 Olympic hockey tournament with me, and discuss it’s implications on the NHL moving forward. We talked about Canada’s route to gold, USA’s fall from grace, Backstrom’s Olympic suspension, how it affected Sweden’s outcome and why team doctors weren’t regulating his intake better, whether Canada’s win justifies all the heavily critcised roster adjustments the coaching staff made, who steps into Steve Yzerman’s role next Olympics, who Canada would send if the NHL chose not to participate in the 2018 Olympics, what the alternative to the Olympics as a best-on-best tournament would be, how John Tavares’ Olympic injury affects the decision for the NHL to return or not, how it affects the Islanders going forward this season, how Olympic performances affect NHL players finishing their NHL season, and more.
We call ourselves the best in the world at this sport but, the truth is, Canada is ranked two places outside of a bronze medal in the world. Fifth place, that is.
As Canada only rounds out the top five in IIHF World Rankings with 2,940 points, an Olympic gold medal would give them an additional 1,200, and vault them to the head of the class with 4,140. That point injection would leapfrog them well past Sweden (first – 3,105), Finland (second – 3,065), Russia (third – 3,040) and the Czech Republic (fourth – 2,975), and reassert Canada’s hockey dominance — not only in the Olympic tournament, but on the world stage.
Canada needs those 1,200 points because, quite frankly, they only send their national best to compete as an intact unit against the world every four years. The IIHF’s other major measuring stick in international competition and rankings is the World Championships. It’s a well-known fact that NHL content is limited every year at that tournament, with the showdown conflicting with Stanley Cup playoff scheduling every year. Many players who are invited to play in the World Championships after their NHL team either does not make the playoffs or is eliminated early from them still opt not to attend, opting to stay home to either heal injuries, or just because they know the tournament does not truly reflect any participating country’s full capacity. While that is entirely their prerogative, it also means Canada misses out on 1,200 points every year, instead of just quadrennially. When the 2014 World Championships are hosted by Belarus from May 9-25 – only three months removed from the Olympic tournament – you can bet that the rosters will again be compromised, and the results will be contentious at best. But though that affects all competing teams, it generally means Canada does not win, and thus plummets further down the ranking ladder.
One intriguing scenario would be for Canada to win both the Olympic and World Championship tournaments, and induce a 2,400-point swing on their standing status. An extraordinary possibility, albeit an unlikely one. The last time the Olympics were held and Canada won the men’s hockey tournament, the only player to reprise his role as a Canadian representative at the 2010 World Championships was Corey Perry. Canada did not medal that year. Further, they have not medaled at the tournament since 2009, nor won since 2007. They did, however, pull off a dual Olympic and World Championship once — 20 years ago in 1994.
Further, both tournaments are held on internationally-sized ice this year. While Canada’s winning percentage on North American-sized ice is impeccable, it would be generous to say they traditionally struggle on the bigger sheet. In fact, Canada has not won an Olympic gold medal in men’s ice hockey outside of North America since 1952, when they struck gold in Oslo, Norway.
While every NHL player transitioning from the smaller sheet is on the same learning curve when it comes to adjusting to the additional 15 feet of rink width, it will be the European club-based players from the KHL and Elite Leagues that will have the advantage over the their visiting teammates and opponents. The question will be whether that factor will be advantageous enough to those already familiar, or whether a week of practice prior to games is enough time to adjust and catch up.
Russia is not projected to win, but a team nearly full of KHL players used to big ice — and competing in their home country — may do better than people expect.
And further still, from Hockey Canada’s standpoint, it would be a crushing blow for Canada’s international rankings for the NHL not to send its players back to the Olympics in 2018. Their world seeding would suffer tremendously after likely dropping their best chance at a quadrennial point spike, while instead likely being represented by amateur players.
So considering that Canada needs to win in order to prove that: 1) 2010 was no fluke; 2) they’re better than fifth; and 3) they can indeed win on big ice, I am picking Canada to win gold.
If we really want to walk around calling ourselves the best hockey nation in the world, and if we want it to actually be true, we have to do more than just want to win — we have to win. That’s a game-changer.
Additionally, silver to Sweden and bronze to Russia. The Swedes are just too good to ignore, and Russia’s home-ice advantage and desire to win at home should not be overlooked.
Dave Cunning is a freelance writer from Kelowna, B.C., Canada, currently residing in Jeju, South Korea. Read his blog: http://davecunning.wordpress.com, follow him on Twitter @davecunning and listen to his podcast: http://xppsp.podbean.com.
The speculation is over. Hockey Canada officially named their Olympic men’s hockey team roster on January 7th. Here are the men defending Canada’s 2010 gold medal:
Jamie Benn,Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews
Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Shea Weber
Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith
What do you think? Did they get it right? Who would you have added or deleted?
I’m pretty sure I’m going to need some Olympic detox. Withdrawals are surely on their way. I was hyper-tweeting on twitter, and my blogs reached record outputs (and hits!). A few of my readers were concerned I’d never return from Olympic themed blogs. So, with the intention of moving back to various topics, here is my last Olympic blog… for now.
Sidney. Freaking. Crosby. I could watch that “Golden Goal” (as announcer Chris Cuthbert called it) on loop for, probably ever. I heard one comparison already of that goal to the likes of the Paul Henderson goal in the ’72 Summit Series, and the Gretzky-to-Lemieux Canada Cup goal, and I have to say I agree with the alignment. It really was one of those goals that you’re going to always remember where you were and who you were with when it happened. It didn’t matter if you were a hockey fan, or even ever played hockey once in your life – if you are Canadian, you were excited.
And wasn’t that the spectacle of Vancouver 2010? All of us Canadians were excited, everywhere; seemingly all the time. Not just in Vancouver; not even just in Canada. Every living room, every pub, bar, airport, restaurant, Tim Hortons’, basement suite, townhouse, apartment, mobile home, rancher, bus, plane, car, city street, or any other dwelling place across the globe that displaced Canadians were currently occupying went absolutely bananas when they saw on their TV or computer, or heard on their radio or phone that Crosby’s shot went in. And it wasn’t just during that game; the jubilation and camaraderie really lasted throughout the entirety of the 17 days that were the 2010 Winter Olympics. There was video evidence from various cities from the East Coast all the way across the country to the West Coast of Canada; from Kandahar, Afghanistan to LAX; of Canadians loving every moment. I got to experience a few events, and even sported car flags on my vehicle (2 lost due to accidental window roll-downs, and one to manufacturers defect). And who could forget the red Olympic mittens? I had my pair.
We cheered and applauded, and/or got a little teary every time a Canadian earned a medal. Was there a better back-story than Alexandre Bilodeau drawing inspiration from his disabled brother and winning Canada’s first gold medal at home? We loved seeing giddy Marianne St-Gelais and Charles Hamelin win their medals and embrace. Who could keep their composure after Joannie Rochette won her bronze just days after the death of her mother? Canadian males everywhere grunted as Jon Montgomery screamed in victory, and guzzled a pitcher of beer. We couldn’t stop from singing “O Canada” in the curling rink, and causing non-traditional delays. The stories go on and on. And as I referenced already, when Crosby went five-hole on Miller, silenced the fear of loss, and Canada triumphed over the US, and took the overall gold medal lead and set the all-time Winter Olympic record, well, is it of any surprise that IOC President Jacques Rogge was “boo’ed” when he announced the games were officially closed?
Our hearts broke every time one of our athletes told us they felt like they let us down. Skeleton’ist Mellisa Hollingsworth, and cross-country skiier Devon Kershaw both broke down in tears as they fell short of the medal podium, and Jeremy Wotherspoon capped is career off still without an Olympic gold medal. Through them wearing their hearts, pride, and passion on the sleeves of their Canadian uniforms, we not only forgave them (we were never mad at them), but we embraced them.
We rallied together anytime negative and irrelevant criticism was thrown our way, and retaliated in a civil way, if necessary. We defended ourselves in, probably, a most unexpected manner. When foreign newspapers and other media outlets tried to point out all our shortcomings as hosts, we accented our strengths, did our best to clean up our messes, and kept on waving the Maple Leaf and breaking into spontaneous street-hockey games anywhere and everywhere, with anyone who wanted to join in. From the time the torch reached our shores from Greece and paraded to every corner of our country, to the time the flame was extinguished and started its journey to the next host, we were a team out there. Even our Prime Minister placed bets on u
IOC President, Jacques Rogge, assessed Vancouver 2010 as “excellent and most friendly”. Perhaps in part from being Canadian and watching Canadian broadcasts, my spectrum of the games were quite partisan. But in all honesty, compared to any other Olympics I’ve seen from any previous year, Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Games were the best. Games. Ever. Many have said Canada forged itself a new identity, and put some swagger in our step. Some say it was there all along. Whatever it is that we’ve become as far as a united nation, I hope we never forget it.
Olympic Quips: Quality Over Quantity, Happy With Harper, Big Kid Pictograms, and More Hockey Thoughts.
Our country, and the world, has certainly been critical of our little “Own The Podium” program that we developed. Now, the goal was to win more medals than any other country, and the likelihood of that happening is fading. But do consider the following: We’ve won more gold medals than anyone else, meaning we’re the best in the world at more sports than any other country, INCLUDING the first place US. We tied the all-time Winter Olympic record for most gold medals at 13. If a country had 32 bronze medals for coming in third every time, and another had a fraction of that amount in gold first place medals, wouldn’t you give the nod to the country with the gold’s? Also, we’ve set another Canadian record for our medal count in Torino, which also was up from the previous record. And thirdly, our female athletes are destroying our male athletes in medal winnings.
I think it’s pretty cool that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is attending so many Olympic events. Apparently he’s been paying his own way for tickets (as he should be), so he must have some deep pockets; tickets for medal events like he’s attended are all in the multiple hundreds of dollars range. That aside, you likely wouldn’t see US President Barack Obama, or certainly not our old friend George W Bush, amongst the common people at such a largely populated public event. Harper’s high-fiving Wayne Gretzky, and hugging athletes as they win medals. I like it.
Who did Pepsi think they were kidding when they tried to make us chant “Eh Oh Canada Go” because they had a contest and awarded a prize to someone
who came up with, what they believed to be, the best original chant? I’m sure the entrant meant well, but come on. Chants are as spontaneous as the wave, or events depicted in Bacardi commercials; like throwing a lot of rocks in the water, building an island, and having an insane party, all on a whim. Our standard “Go Canada Go” chant is fine the way it is. Also, I’ve enjoyed “WE WANT RUS-SIA CLAP, CLAP, CLAP-CLAP-CLAP”; also sub-in SWE-DEN and U-S-A at the sight of inevitable Team Canada hockey wins as my favourites so far.
What’s the deal with the presentation of flowers after the medals? I know in Roman times, the flowers were quite coveted by the winners. Surely, it’s a tip of the cap to that tradition, today. But I mean, I’m sure the athletes are like, “WOW THIS IS AWESOME I’M THE BEST THIS MEDAL RULES… oh, and thanks for the flowers… hold on, I gotta put these in some water… for something that’s gonna die fairly soon, these seem like something that we could’ve saved spending money on for something for necessary.” Here’s a little quip about where the bouquets are made.
I’m glad Vancouver 2010 decided to use pictograms to visually interpret the events that don’t look like kindergarten scrawls, as has been done consistently for like, ever. These ones are well drawn, and actually look like what they are supposed to depict.
Team Canada’s Women’s hockey team prrrrrobably shouldn’t have been drinking champagne and smoking cigars in the public eye after their gold medal victory, especially with an underaged player on the team participating. But you’re kidding yourselves if you think these things weren’t happening anyways in the dressing room. They just got caught. Oops. Add this to the IOC’s list of reasons that will be reviewed to support women’s hockey remaining as an Olympic event… hmm, probably should’ve kept it in the room. Well, they are the best in the world, again. And they beat the Americans. On those fronts, nice going girls!
Finally, after squeaking by Slovakia, CANADA IS GOING TO DESTROY THE US IN HOCKEY AND WIN THE GOLD MEDAL AND AVENGE THEIR ROUND ROBIN LOSS AND SETTLE THE PSYCHE OF ALL CANADIANS. Given, the US has a great team, a hot goalie, and it would be good for the business of hockey for them to win, but my allegiances are unquestioned. I have a friend who is a die-hard Calgary Flames fan/Vancouver Canucks hater, so much so that the mere thought of Roberto Luongo being credited for Canada’s success spurs on thoughts of “Lu” assassination, and instead wants Iginla to be credited for all triumphs. I’ve got another (American) friend who only gets interested in hockey when the US plays Canada. After some back and forth text-taunting since the first game, I NEED Canada to win for my own pride. Is it interesting to anyone else that North American teams only make it to the Olympic finals when the games are played on NHL sized ice instead of Olympic sized ice (an insane stat; what other reason is there to have Olympic sized ice if not to be used AT THE OLYMPICS?) I think we can all agree, it’s going to be one heck of a game. Lets go Salt Lake City on ‘em!
GO CANADA GO!!!
My goodness, Canada obliterated Russia. Canada lives to fight another day, and Sid wins the latest chapter of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin showdown (actually, they both had zero points in the game, but Sid wins by default with the team win; also Ovechkin was invisible throughout the whole game). I hate to say it’s typical of Russia, but since the loss, the Russians have been skewering Canada in the media (no offence to any of the nice Russian people I know). All the people who thought that the loss to the US might have been the “inspiration” Canada needed to get things back on track may just have been onto something.
My most common thought through that game was MAN I FREAKING LOVE TEAM CANADA. I had a long term relationship with the LA Kings during the Gretzky era, had cups of coffee with the Blues, Rangers, and most recently, I’d been warming up to the Coyotes and Leafs. But all in all, Team Canada is my favourite hockey team of all time. I absolutely love it when they win, and I nearly lose my mind when they lose. All the whining about how American NHL teams are all comprised of Canadians, and when those teams win Cups, it’s really Canada winning, sort of; well this is actually all those Canadian players all together on one team, and all NHL season gripes, grudges, and affiliations are off. I’ve even come to realize that I really like the new sport neutral Team Canada logo designed for the Olympics.
I really have come to think that the Olympic tournament is the premier
international hockey competition as well. As opposed to the World Championships, you have EVERY country’s best players representing their flag; not the small percentage of NHL players who aren’t in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year. Also, the players are in peak mid-season conditioning; whereas WC players may be “mailing in” their efforts after knowing they’re not going to win the Stanley Cup. The World Cup/Canada Cup is cool too, but it has no frequency to it; only being contested every 7-8 years. It would be better if the Olympics didn’t have single elimination games, and best-of series’ instead. I wish there was a way to have every country play every country at least once, instead of the pool play, but I guess there really isn’t that kind of time. Maybe next NHL lockout, there could be a Global Hockey League, where we see countries compete in an NHL season format. How awesome would that be?
Now we face Slovakia, after what must be considered an upset after defeating defending gold medal champs, Sweden. So Sweden, you’re telling me a squad comprised of Zetterberg, Franzen, Alfredsson, both Sedin’s, Forsberg, Lidstrom, and others were not good enough to beat… wait, who does Slovakia have? Zdeno Chara? (ok they have the Hossa’s and Gaborik too, but come on, not nearly as deep as Sweden) This was the first legit upset of the tournament, in my opinion, but man were there a few close calls. The Swiss were a handful for Canada and the US, Belarus made it tough on Sweden, Latvia took a run at the Czechs, and even Norway almost edged out the Slovaks. Now by the math, Canada should roll over Slovakia, but hey, we said that about the US, didn’t we?
I think it’s great for hockey as a whole, but obviously not great for Canada. We’re no longer afforded the luxury of thinking we’re automatically the best in the world when it comes to international matchups (someone tell all the women’s teams besides Canada and the US to follow suit). We’ve known this since 2006 in Turin really, but people like to pretend as if those Olympics never happened; isn’t it odd that the only Olympics Canadians seem to “remember” in terms of hockey is 2002? Obviously our best showing, but you have to take the bad with the good and make adjustments if you’re going to remain king of the hill. Another thing that escapes Canadian hockey fans memories is that both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo were our goalies in Turin as well. Luckily, we’ve already bested our placement from that time.
Go Canada GO!
So many Olympic thoughts running through my brain. After watching it on TV EVERYday so far, and even going to Vancouver to see a few events, I gotta say I’m really enjoying the Olympics overall. I don’t think I’d be
wrong to say that most Canadians are as well. Have you ever seen spontaneous jubilation in streets, or random outbursts of “O Canada” at curling matches before? Unreal. Truly something special; whether you’re viewing from afar, or are there to experience it in person.
Most people internationally would likely say the same thing as well. Unfortunately, there are a few members of the American and British press who want to rain on everyone’s parade by labelling Vancouver 2010 as the “worst games ever”.
Sure, the weather hasn’t been ideal; but events have continued, and medals have been awarded. Sorry we forgot to import the weather machine that does our meteorological bidding. Our courses are too hard? The competitors are the best in the world at their sports, right? Should we make
them easier for everyone? Sorry for training on our own tracks a lot; didn’t know that was such a bad thing. The world doesn’t like our “Own The Podium” program, where we give more money and training opportunities than we historically have to our Olympic athletes in hopes of them winning a lot of medals? Oh, sorry, should we just go back to being a mediocre sporting nation for everyone else to roll over like they used to? What we gave our competitors is still nowhere near that of other nations, and hey, it’s not even working out THAT well for us so far, so chill. We’re doing alright though, and no one here is going to be less proud of our athletes for any reason.
A malfunction in the Opening Ceremonies? Um… whoops. We swear they were working in practice. Some people thought the flaming icicles looked like male genitalia, or drug paraphernalia? Well, think what you want, but be careful what indigenous people you vocalize those opinions around. No one can get close to the flame? Hey, they’re working on it. I got a few good pics; I’m not complaining. The US beating Canada in men’s hockey? Wait, that’s Canada’s complaint. Blame it on the goalies when things go squirrely, right?
And the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili; well that was simply a tragedy, nothing else. That track has been ridden countless times safely, and it’s a very unfortunate and sobering example of just how dangerous that sport is.
So England and America, oh yee dwelling in glass houses and flats; how did your prior Olympic Games hostings turn out?
London’s Olympic Games in 1908 saw England piss off the Finnish, Swedish, and USA by not displaying their flags at the Opening Ceremonies. Finland decided not to march, and Sweden left all together. The Americans were then asked to “dip” their flag to the Royals, which they outright refused. Solid international relations, England.
The USA’s Games hosting tenures haven’t been “squeaky clean” either.
Atlanta’s 1996’s Summer Games were considered over-commercialized, had a highly criticized Olympic Village and Opening Ceremonies by spectators and athletes alike, and… what else, what else…. OH YEAH, there was a BOMBING that killed 2 people and injured 111 others.
Salt Lake City’s Winter Games of 2002 were marred by a bribery scandal (all-expense-paid ski trips, scholarships, Super Bowl trips, plastic surgery, deals on real estate, jobs for family members, and cash for IOC delegates from the Utah bid committee) to bring the Olympics to Utah which saw several IOC members expelled, and others resign. Allegations of foul play in figure skating judging saw scores and results reviewed and medals re-awarded. Suspect refereeing in speed skating DQ’ed a Korean, and angered that entire country to the point that the Olympic website crashed from the overload of threatening emails sent to them over the result. Russians threatened to go home after they felt they were unfairly accused of doping in cross-country skiing.
Los Angeles’ Games of 1984 were boycotted by 16 countries. In LA’s 1932 Games, President Hoover became the first head of state in Olympic history not to even show up at the event. The 1904 Games in St. Louis became a sideshow of The World’s Fair, and lasted four and a half months.
Now, all that to say to the critics look, we know things have been going wrong. We’re working on it. No one said Vancouver 2010 was going to be perfect. And let’s be honest, everyone throwing stones at us right now has got plenty of skeletons in their own closets from when they tried to host the Olympic Games previously. Can we at least agree that it’s a rather dubious task? And London, you get them again in 2012, so you better be expecting an earful the second after the first thing goes wrong. I’ll take a few unseasonably warm days in Whistler over any of those other issues any day. There’s just so much good to be taken from these Games, maybe we can all just quit pointing fingers at our follies and just enjoy our athletes rising above the childish media behavior?
I think US Men’s Hockey Team GM, Brian Burke, said it best with this earlier quote in response to the criticisms of Vancouver 2010:
“I think that’s bullshit. I’ve been to four Winter Olympics. This is the best one I’ve been to in terms of organization. You’re going to have glitches in an event this size. With this many people, logistical things with multiple venues, you’re going to have glitches. I don’t know why people are whining about it. I think it’s been extraordinarily well run — again, this is my fourth one so it’s not like I’m a novice. I think they’ve done a marvellous job here. I wish people would quit bitching about it.”
Man, for a million reasons, I wish Brian Burke was Canadian.
From the 2:30 mark, “The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the 21st Olympic games in 2010 are awarded to the city of….(dramatic pause)….Vancouver.”
I still remember ducking out of my hated construction labor job for 20 minutes in July of 2003; strategically hiding from my boss, taking refuge in my car which I parked out of plain view, reclining the seat and turning up the radio to hear the announcement being broadcast on a local station. My hair stood straight up and chills ran down my spine when IOC President Jacques Rogge finally said “Vancouver.” Unfortunately I had to go back to hating my job and life prompty after that, but they were 20 minutes I’ll never forget. I still get those same chills even when I remember back to it now. For seven years, I’ve been excited for Vancouver, and Canada, to host these winter Olympics. I know I’m not the only one either.
An event like the Olympics effects not only one entire nation, but the entire world. Anytime things of that magnitude occur, opposition naturally follows. And that’s part of the beauty of our democratic societies; that we allow free speech, and people have the right to balk at things they believe are worth standing against. Are there bad things that will come out of Canada hosting the games? Surely. The $500 million+ dollars pumped into these games could’ve been spent a lot of other ways; especially amongst a recovering economic recession. Would we have ended homelessness in our country with that money? Tough to say. Were we not careful enough with the environment when constructing facilities? Did we not represent the Indigenous people of Canada, and our other cultural origins correctly? Did we go overboard on security in an attempt to keep terrorism and other threats to peace out of the picture? Are there another 100 things that were not done to the liking of our 30 million residents? Probably. Is anyone actually making the case that we did things perfect? Not likely. Sometimes athletes cheat, sometimes there’s corruption in the IOC. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don’t. Some countries get more money to train, and some have to just make due. Personally, I don’t like the fact that our politicans and corporate sponsors ALL managed to get prime tickets to ALL the events, and the public was subject to an inane online lottery system. Oh, and that some of those tickets cost $1000 or more. Athletes get hurt, and probably more unfortunate than anything else, sometimes athletes are fatally injured; as in the case of Georgian Luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili. So yeah, there’s a lot of imperfect things that the Olympics bring.
But can we think positively for at least 2 weeks? If anyone who watched the opening ceremonies that saw the 60,000 Canadians packed into BC Place draped in red and white, waving the Maple Leaf, and resounding in excitement, thinks that Canadians aren’t pleased as punch to be hosting these games, well they couldn’t be more wrong. For every stick in the mud, there’s an entire tree full of green, growing branches, reaching for the sky and enjoying their time in the sun. And that’s exactly what Canada has before it; 2+ weeks to shine in international light.
Canadians love sport, and we love our athletes that compete for us as well. The thing about athletics is it has the ability to transcend even the thickest cultural and international disagreements in the name of sportsmanlike competition. If you need any proof of that, look at the nations of Iran and North Korea; absolutely scorned by the Western world as being on the brink of nuclear war with us. But through all that justified tension, North Korea has sent a speed-skater, and Iran’s sent 2 skiers to compete in the Games; and to, if only briefly, join and be welcomed by the international community. Even Israel and Lebanon will put aside differences to be a part of the Olympiad. That’s powerful stuff.
Look at Ghana, Ethiopia, Nepal, and other impoverished countries that may or may not even see a flake of snow in their countries, but come to the Games with the support of their governments and train between full-time jobs to earn spots on their national rosters to compete because they believe that the Olympics are worth the effort and sacrifice necessary to get to them. And really, that’s exactly what the Olympics are all about in their purest form; the best amateur athletes in the world, putting aside barriers, competing cleanly, for their country, to showcase the best that their human abilities have to offer in terms of their unique sport.
The thing is, there’s so much good to be harvested out of such a criticized event. We ran a little flicker of a flame from Greece, around the entire planet, and through the streets and neighborhoods of nearly every city in our own country. In Kelowna, we had a kid with cancer cut out a few days of his chemotherapy treatments so he could be a local torchbearer. Many similarly touching stories laced our national torch relay as well.
We’ve come together as 6 continents to show that there’s at least one thing we can all be civil and peaceful about, if only for a short time. The world of sport blends together with art and culture to put on a show unlike any other. Our troops fighting for our freedom overseas gather around a TV, dressed in Canada clothing and sipping Tim Hortons’ coffee to watch the proceedings of Canadian icons Rick Hansen, Nancy Green, Betty Fox, Wayne Gretzky, and others completing the Olympic opening ceremonies. We bought pairs of red mittens, various apparel, grocery items, and pretty well anything we could get our hands on that we either knew would support Canadian athletes financially, or just emblazoned “Canada” on them to show our support.
So, through all the things there are to protest against, there are plenty of others that Canadians are rightfully excited about. How bananas are we going to all go when a Canadian wins our first gold medal that we’ve ever won on home soil? Our when our hockey team(s) (hopefully) strike gold as well? Between the Olympics and Paralympics, it’s going to be an exciting few weeks, and a historical moment for our country. I hope you choose to enjoy them with the rest of us. Go Canada go!
I told this story in person the other day, so I decided to re-release it, ala Greatest Hits style. As a wordpress special bonus, check out the photographic evidence to verify the story! Enjoy.
(originally posted February 18th, 2009)
August 19, 2005.
In preparation for the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Canadian Men’s Hockey Team was having an “orientation camp(still not clear on what that meant, or why they didn’t just call it ‘practice’)” in my hometown of Kelowna BC. The Executive Director for Team Canada at the time was none other than my boyhood (and if anyone was, I guess current as well) hero, Wayne Gretzky.
Now, let me help you to understand what I mean when I say “hero” here. I mean from the age that I was aware Gretzky was really good at hockey and played for the LA Kings (circa 1990), I owned jerseys, hockey cards, posters, Halloween costumes, books, shoes, officially endorsed products and equipment, and attempted haircuts in likeness… I was a advertising field day for this man.
It became my goal to come full circle, and meet my hero.
The tickets had sold out nearly immediately, without my inclusion in the possession or purchase of any of them. I was working for the Okanagan Hockey School at the time, a school that boasts many NHL alumni as instructors and/or part owners. They happened to have an in with the orientation camp, and were able to get some of the instructors free passes to the practices. I immediately snapped 2 passes up to the sold out event. After work, my brother and I zipped down to Prospera place to take our seats, my old Gretzky LA Kings jersey and Sharpie marker in tow. We managed to catch the players just heading out onto the ice, so we decided to see if a few of them would autograph some stuff for us. First out of the gate was Martin Brodeur, pretty much the best goaltender in the world at the time, and pretty high in the all-time record books. When we asked him to sign, he shrugged us, and the other people standing by the gate, right off. I didn’t think much of it, thinking, “well it’s just a practice, no big deal. He’s got all that goalie gear on anyways, it’s probably going to be a huge hassle for him anyways. ” Following up Brodeur were Ed Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi, and the other TWO goalies, Marty Turco and Roberto Luongo. ALL of which put down their gloves and sticks, and signed stuff for a few minutes until everyone was content. I decided to think less of Martin Brodeur after that moment.
After heading back to our ticketed seats, a friend who we had ended up sitting near advised me to look to my right. Heeding the advice, I turned my head, and who would I see, but “The Great One,” himself. Yes, by all modern calendars, I was 22 years old at the time, but in that moment, I was no more than 10 years old again. Wayne.was.here. And I could see him. I could have thrown something at him if I wanted. He was sitting in the stands, with his cronies (Kevin Lowe and company), taking notes or something. Realizing the current environment was no place to make a scene, I decided to keep a watchful eye on his every move, as to not be eluded ( for those wondering, I do not enjoy being eluded). The ice-session came to an end, and so did Wayne’s viewing. I really had no ideas as to what to do. They were sitting in a roped off area, and exited through the back. Wayne was escaping, and my already small window of opportunity was closing. I had nothing. I accepted it, and decided to take off, at least being happy I saw him, however unfulfilled I was truly feeling. As we made our way out, I took I noticed the “backstage” area, all roped off, with black curtains and everything. People were surrounding the guard rails, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heros. I also noticed people walking into the area with the same passes around their necks as ours; the only difference being theirs has “All Access” Sharpie marked on the bottom. I looked around my neck at my pass. I looked in my left hand containing a Sharpie marker. I realized I had one shot at his.
My brother and I ducked behind a corner and I quickly scribbled “All Access” at the bottom of our passes, in the closest handwriting facsimile I could muster. I managed to catch the attention of a lady heading in, and acted bewildered about the direction I was supposed to go, showing her my pass. She took a look at it, at me, and said, “come on, I’ll take you in.” My mouth said humble and appreciative things, and my mind stood in awe of what it had apparently just pulled off.
I tried my best not to act like an idiot and to try to make it seem like I was supposed to be back there. But it was tough. Everyone was back there, Iginla, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Yzerman, Bertuzzi, Sakic, Heatley, Nash, Smyth… everyone. It was incredible. Part of my blend-in technique was to see what catering had to offer. I noticed Ken Hitchcock at the table (cue the jokes), and decided to ask him how he could possibly narrow down this amount of talent to one team’s worth, over some veggies and dip. He didn’t really give me a straight answer. I asked Stevey Y how he liked Kelowna, to which he responded he wished he could live here. He, Iginla, St. Louis, Smyth and Lecavalier all signed my hat, all with smiles on their faces, all classy guys.
I found a place on the wall and decided just to hang out for a bit. That’s when I was again advised to turn my head, this time to the left. Wayne. I was back in the hunt. He was signing some sticks for some people. He finished up and was heading our way. I immediately started to draw up a mental game plan as to what my move was going to be, not that dis-similiar from the Mr. Bean episode were he meets the queen. I didn’t want to go into a thing about telling him he was my hero for all these years, yada yada… one part because surely he hears that everyday, another because as aforementioned I was trying not to look like an idiot, and another simply because of time. I was going to have mere moments to make contact. I decided on the handshake and autograph request, hopefully with coherent speech. Again, I knew I was only going to get one shot at this as well. Wayne ducked into a hallway. My heart sank momentarily, but then he came back out and was again headed in our direction. My heart was functioning again. This was it. I was in range. I made eye contact. I remember at that moment thinking I pictured him being taller. I stuck out my hand. Suprisingly and incredibly, he returned the shake, I think a little bewildered himself. I muttered, “Hi Wayne, can you sign my jersey?” or something of the likes. He replied, “um…hold on, I’ll be right back.” I agreed to the terms and faded back into the wall, hoping to reconvene in the near future. We waited. And waited. We hung out for a little while longer and started to get antsy. I found Pat Quinn and asked him haphazardly if Wayne was still around. Pat said Wayne took off. My heart nearly broke into a million pieces.
My brother and I took a de-briefing as to the events that had just taken place. We snuck into somewhere we weren’t allowed. We met the best hockey players in the world. I saw Wayne Gretzky, shook his hand, said something to him, and he even replied with a partial sentence to me. All in all, not a bad day. I went home all smiles. Sure Wayne blew me off, but I accomplished my goal and did meet my boyhood hero.
And that’s how I met Wayne Gretzky.
Ask my brother Rob if you don’t believe me.