To be a good sportThere was a great column on ESPN.com the other day, about a Norwegian coach who gave a ski pole to a Canadian skier whose pole had snapped in the middle of the sprint relay final.
The writer, Eric Adelson, went on to rave about the sportsmanship of the coach, and how unusual it seemed. And then he drew comparisons to other sports just to drive home the point that this was something extraordinary.
"Now imagine this is, say, hockey," he wrote. "Say it's the U.S. vs. Russia. Or say, it's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Say Jarome Iginla breaks his stick, giving the Lightning a man advantage. Say John Tortorella picks up a stick from the rack and tosses it out to him. Then, Iginla scores the Cup winner. Madness, right? Tortorella gets fired." Later on Adelson went on to write, "[w]e laud athletes who grin as they say they would dunk on their own mother, and we grin ourselves at the thought of Bobby Clarke breaking Valery Kharlamov's ankle in the 1972 Summit Series. We want our heroes to be bloodthirsty gladiators."
That's right. Hockey gets to be the example for the sport of the "bloodthirsty gladiators."
That got me thinking if other sports were more into the fair play than hockey.
In soccer, when somebody gets injured, the opposing team's players kick the ball out of play right away so that the medical staff can take care of the injured player. When the play resumes, the team that got the ball -- the injured player's team -- kicks it back to the other team.
Now that's pretty fair, it's honourable and it's the players taking care of each other.
There I was, thinking about being a good sport, when I saw the Finland vs. the Czech Republic game and how Jarkko Ruutu smashed Jaromir Jagr's head into the boards. Jagr hit his head, and stayed down with drops of blood dripping on the ice.
Martin Straka was quick to jump on Ruutu, and wrestle him down to the ice. That's the code. The Czechs were trying to hit everything that moved in the next few shifts. That also is the code.
Nobody on the Finnish team seemed to have seen the hit. Part of the code. Teemu Selanne was asked about it, but he had missed it. Coach Erkka Westerlund missed it as well, but apparently his "assistant coaches had seen it and said it was a clean hit." Olli Jokinen must have seen it because he tapped Ruutu on the butt -- another hockey code -- when he returned to the bench.
And if you look at the replay of the hit, Ruutu does hold his elbow down, so technically it's not the dirtiest of hits. He just rams Jagr into the boards while Jagr is crouching. Jagr even has the puck when Ruutu hits him. He just couldn't resist the temptation. He had good speed, saw "68" in front of him, probably even noticed that Jagr didn't see him coming, so he just let it go.
If you ask him today, he's going to say that he didn't intend to hurt Jagr. That may be true in a sick kind of way. See, "taking somebody out of the play" doesn't mean "injuring" in the hockey language. Nobody really wants to break another player's ankle -- see above Clarke vs. Kharlamov -- but hey, they're all just trying to win, and taking the other team's best player out of the game helps.
Ruutu's hit was completely unnecessary, and it served no purpose, except build the Ruutu brand of being a pest, a rat, and a player that you supposedly love having on your own team but hate when he's playing against you.
Let's just say I am not proud of having him on Team Finland right now.
And I don't like hockey being a bad example in sportsmanship.
If the newspaper reports about Sweden willing to throw the game against Slovakia to get to play against Switzerland in the quarterfinals are true, I don't know what to say.
Maybe let Ruutu play for the Swedes?
You'd better believeAll right then! The Olympics are here, world-class hockey is in my time zone, as is the NHL travel blogger Rich Libero. He's actually where the Olympics are (and obviously the pasta and the wine and where there is no such thing as a tall latte), but I'm still here, as always. On the famous red couch, that is.
I've been sitting here for about a week now, with the laptop on my knees, a glass of Pepsi Max on the coffee table in front of me and the remote to my left.
I've seen a lot of curling, some cross country skiing, ski jumping, skating and biathlon, and a lot of hockey on both the Swedish and Finnish television.
Anyway, I've been sitting here, waiting for something that would make me go wow. (That's what these kinds of events are all about to: gigantic emotions and huge memories, even if it means that somebody has to lose by one hundredth of a second like Finnish Juha Mieto lost to Swedish Thomas Wassberg in Lake Placid in 1980).
There have been a few, but being a wow-junkie, I want more. Here's my list so far:
Things are looking good for my boys. And for those who are wondering, the Finns are my boys.
Switzerland and Italy aren't hockey power houses, granted, but they way Team Finland just steamrolled over them was impressive. Two games, two wins and two shutouts. Now that I think about it, add that to the list. Wow.
But that's what the life of a couch coach is like: Sitting on a rollercoaster. Everything was so bleak a week ago, when Niklas Hagman got a call to join his Dallas Stars team mates on a flight to Turin while Miikka Kiprusoff took the flight to Hawaii. A couple of days later, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne sliced through the Swiss defense and Antero Niittymaki got a shutout, and all of a sudden a medal seems within reach.
But the brain (even couch coaches have one) says that the true test in naturally ahead of them. First the Czechs, then Team Canada, many people's two favorites to meet in the final.
I'm with Russia, though. I think there's so much talent, and skill, and even grit in the Russian team this time around that they can go all the way. They showed that in the game against Sweden, even if Sweden will surely get better as they get to, for example, practice once together. Also, getting Peter Forsberg's groins into the line-up will give the Swedes a real first line.
So, here I am, sitting on the couch, drinking soda and wondering about "Foppa's" groins. Scary.
Switzerland beating both the Czechs and Canada in consecutive games is pretty amazing. So let's add that to my list. (It doesn't really qualify, since I didn't see the game). Too bad it doesn't really batter, since Germany and Italy won't be able to pull similar upsets so Team Canada and the Czechs will make it to the playoff round.
So, here I am, looking for a major upset, a miracle winner in the tournament.
Such as Suomi.
Finland searches for silver liningMartin Brodeur can't play in the Olympics! He'd love to, but his calves are just so sore that he can barely stand up -- when he's not playing. Unfortunately, Roberto Luongo's not doing much better. Turns out his wrists aren't 100 percent yet, so he'll have to throw in the towel as well.
Stop! What was that screetching sound? That was the sound of Rick Nash's bare bones in his knee grinding against each other. He's not going to Turin. Or Torino, for that matter. And Jarome Iginla ... fell getting off a cab and broke his ankle.
No, it's not true. Brodeur, Luongo, Nash and Iginla seem to be alright.
What I'm talking about is Team Finland, naturally. We've lost Miikka Kiprusoff, who leads the league in shutouts and wins, and is third in minutes played. Then, Kari Lehtonen, the goalie phenom who had just returned to action, announced that his body couldn't take the Olympic beating. Right on the heels of Lehtonen's announcement, Sami Kapanen - already playing only thanks to modern medicine -- said he'd stay at home as well.
Oh, and, Tuomo Ruutu was a victim of a freak injury. Did I leave anybody out? Yes, I did. Ossi Vaananen broke his ankle (but not getting out of a cab) and Joni Pitkanen says he's not in any shape to play in the Olympics.
Now the nation is suffering from Olympic withdrawal symptoms -- before the tournament. The proud World Cup finalists have lost some faith. I mean, with "Kipper" and even Wonder Boy Lehtonen, anything was possible. And if Tuomo could score that goal against Canada in the World Cup final, imagine what he could have done this time around.
And, damn, Sami Kapanen was going to make the team even better.
(And yes, other teams are also being hit. Canada has lost Jovanovski and Niedermeyer, Sweden has to do without Johnsson, Naslund and Kronwall, for example, and once "Foppa" (Peter Forsberg) says "no can do", the clouds of desperation will be traveling west).
But, back to Finland where the feeling is now: What's the point now, why even bother watching the tournament?
And for that, I blame whoever it was that said that the rosters have to be named three months in advance. That's why reporters are now circling Antero Niittymaki, asking him if he's now the new starter of Team Finland, and getting outraged when Niittymaki doesn't know.
That's why some people are all over GM Jari Kurri for "not doing anything". That's why others are convinced that this is all just a Canadian conspiracy against Finland that all the Canadian coaches are pressuring their players to stay at home. That's why there is criticism against coach Westerlund for picking "injured players."
That's why we're losing faith.
Is it really better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Not sure.
I think we'd be better off had the coaches announced the final rosters two weeks prior to the tournament and we'd just have to live with it.
That way, we'd have missed all this circus around who's coming, who's not, and that way, no player would have to "betray his country" and withdraw himself from the team -- while still playing another 30 games in the NHL.
I just can't deal with it anymore. Give me an Olympic break