Canada re-establishing itself as king of the rink
Posted: Mon February 16, 1998 at 2:40 PM ET
NAGANO, Japan (KRT) -- In the minds of some American hockey players it's obvious now, this vast Canadian conspiracy.
In order to wrest hockey superiority back from the Americans, Canada hatched a wicked plot, a devious smear campaign to portray the Americans as drunken louts uninterested in winning Winter Olympic gold.
The Americans have taken the bait totally.
The only problem is the Canadians didn't devise the scheme. The Americans created it long ago, back when they reached the conclusion that all the gold medal pressure was on Canada, the motherland of hockey, not the United States, the defending World Cup champions.
The Americans don't realize this yet.
That's why they responded so ridiculously when their third lackluster performance of these Olympics -- a 4-1 drubbing by the Canadians -- and a 4:45 a.m., nightclub sighting of team captain Chris Chelios and forward Brett Hull on Sunday caused reporters to question the team's intensity, commitment and effort.
"Maybe it's a Canadian conspiracy," said Chelios. "I was with my father and my family and everybody at the AT&T center."
"That's just the Canadians stirring [up trouble]," said U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick. "Let them yap all they want. That's what they do. It doesn't matter what we do off the ice, as long as we bring it on the ice."
Canadians stirring (up trouble)?
U.S. reporters, not Canadians, spotted Hull and Chelios at a popular Nagano beer hall. [Hull didn't deny being there.] And USA coach Ron Wilson, not the Canadians, canceled Sunday's practice because, he said, his players were tired.
There's no conspiracy here.
There's just an overconfident American hockey team on the verge of getting embarrassed, on the verge of getting shut out of the medal ceremony and on the verge of giving NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a major headache.
No question. The Canadians have the most talented hockey team in this tournament. There's no shame in losing to Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis and Co.
"If we lose, we're not going to hang ourselves," Roenick said. "If we were playing Pakistan every day, we'd hang ourselves."
Chelios said, "It's a great tournament. No embarrassment. We have high expectations on ourselves. But it would be no embarrassment."
OK, we're all agreed. The Americans won't embarrass themselves if they finish this tournament without a medal.
But if they leave Nagano without having played any better than they have thus far, they will have embarrassed themselves. And, perhaps more important, they will have rendered Bettman's sacrifice worthless.
The commish, by stopping NHL play for two weeks, bet big on these Olympics. He's hoping the Games will boost American interest in his league. The ideal situation would be for the Canadians and Americans to meet in the gold medal game.
That doesn't seem likely now. Team USA could be done Wednesday morning when they face the game's best forward, Jaromir Jagr, and the game's best goalie, Dominik Hasek, and the rest of the Czech Republic.
Will CBS viewers stay up late to watch a gold-medal game pitting Canada-Russia?
I don't think so.
Chelios and Hull need to leave the partying to U.S. journalists, who have no problem performing after a night of drinking.
Yes, the Canadians have more talent. But the Canadians are dominating these Olympics -- and dominated Team USA -- because they have more focus, more determination. They approached the Games like a business trip. They're here to avenge their World Cup loss and restore order to the hockey world.
"You've got the best players in the world playing hard, back checking and very disciplined," said Shanahan. "We're not looking to get goals and pads stats. The talent gap is so small you need extra things like character and camaraderie and playing hard on short shifts."
Hull -- who said late-night partying was part of the "Olympic Experience" -- used the word "selfish" to describe the Americans, then backed off when he realized how badly that sounded.
But "selfish" captures the American hockey team more accurately than "victims of a Canadian conspiracy."
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