Monday, February 15, 2010

Come Olympic Time, Who Are You Rooting For. . .?

Ask a hockey fan who they are rooting during these Olympic games and for many it's completely cut and dry.

If you are Canadian, you are rooting for Canada.

A Finn, a Swede, a Czech - I'd think the same.

But for some Americans, perhaps, asking who they are rooting for during the Olympic games may not be so easy.

Or at least it wasn't always so easy to me. I'll try to clarify before people start assuming I am not patriotic. That's really not the case.
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The first winter Olympics I truly immersed myself in for hockey was 2002 in Salt Lake. I watched the 1998 in Nagano, but it didn't have the same effect. But 2002, that was, for me, two of the greatest weeks of my life.

I missed classes, called out from my part time job, wore socks for the country I was rooting for during every game. There is one day in particular where there were four games throughout the day - I remember not leaving the couch. I think back and think, as a hockey fan, that may have been one of the greatest days I ever spent.

I was rooting for the Americans that year, and rooting hard. I think in the wake of 9/11, it seemed the most natural thing to do. I was big into baseball at the time - America's game - and the feelings of national pride just swept right through me and carried through into everything. Those Olympics were fantastic and they were no different.

The Americans lost to Canada, as you well know, and I did cry. I wanted so badly for Team USA to win.

However, I took big solace, as a Rangers fan, that New York's Eric Lindros and Theo Fleury won the gold. Even then, I was able to transfer my sadness into happiness for them.

And I think that began a period of realizing you could do both. Root for your country and root for players you like.

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When the 2006 Olympics came around, a player I had a ton of respect for and loved so much - Brian Leetch - was not included on the roster. True, Leetch was playing in what would be his last season in the NHL with the Bruins, and not anywhere near the player he once was, but I thought, perhaps biasedly, he deserved to go. And I was disappointed that Chelios was not deemed too old, but Leetch was.

That year, the Rangers were sending a HUGE number of Olympians - the majority from Czech Republic.

So I asked myself what made more sense, at the time - rooting for an American team without my favorite player, or rooting for a team that was going to have Jagr, Straka, Rucinsky, Malik, and (what we thought) Prucha?

And I went Czech Republic. And I don't regret it either.

Additionally, I rooted for Team Sweden. I mean it was OUR goalie that was going to lead them. Why should I not root for them too?

So as the Olympics played out, and Teams USA and Canada disappointed, I rooted for Team Czech, Team Russia, Team Sweden, whoever had a player from our team. And I saw nothing wrong with that.

Would I have been disappointed if another team won? No.

Was I happy OUR goalie won the Olympic gold? Absolutely.

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Fast forward to present day. We have a similar situation. I love a few American players - Kane and Thomas and Callahan in particular. I will root for them, certainly. If they win the Gold Medal (any medal) I will be so PROUD. I sincerely mean that.

But am I going to root against Team Sweden and OUR goalie?

Am I going to root against Team Russia with that other goalie on that team I watch a lot - Bryzgalov - and the most dynamic player in the league - Ovechkin?

Am I rooting against Team Slovakia with our Gaborik, the guy who has carried our team all season?

And I seriously going to root against a Team Czech that has Zbynek Michalek and (my gosh I wish you were still here with all my heart) Jaromir Jagr?!

No. I can't and I won't.

I'm going to root for a fantastic Olympics. I'm going to root for the best team to win. And preferably the best team is a team with a player I root for on it.

Does that make me less of an American?

I honestly just think it makes me more of a hockey fan.

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Predictions Anyone?


For the record, and before hockey begins tomorrow, I'm not going to play guessing games with who can or should or will win.

But if Ryan Miller gets hot, the US has a chance, surely.

If Hank gets hot, Sweden can do the same. We saw it happen.

Canada is a favorite to most, and rightfully so, but I cannot and will not ignore Team Russia. Three of arguably the top five goal scorers in the league - Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk - and two of the best goalies in the league, both having stellar years - Bryzgalov and Nabokov.

I know Canada could build three teams before anyone else could assemble one...but this will be a competition - be sure of that.

Oh and for the record, do I root against Canada even though until Marc Staal is on the team I don't have a player I LOVE on it?

No. Why should I.

I just hope the best team wins. Whatever country that may be.