CANADIAN POWER PLAY
In a move that has roiled the amateur hockey world, Canada's Olympic brass last week invited New York Islander goaltender Kelly Hrudey to join that country's Olympic hockey team. Hrudey, 23, has said he would like to play in the Olympics, and Isles GM Bill Torrey has said he would let him go if Canadian Olympic coach Dave King can provide assurances that Hrudey will be eligible under Olympic amateur rules to play once he gets to Sarajevo.
That last condition is a little tricky, because Hrudey has been a professional since 1981. After starring two seasons for Indianapolis of the Central Hockey League, he became the Islanders' third goalie this season behind Billy Smith and Rollie Melanson. He has appeared in 10 games and has a 3.09 goals-against average and a 7-1 record, which seems to justify his reputation as one of the league's most promising young goalies. Hrudey's salary does as well. He averaged more than $50,000 during each of his years in Indianapolis and is earning between $80,000 and $100,000 this season.
How, then, can Hrudey possibly be considered an "amateur" eligible for the Olympics? Rule 26 of the International Olympic Committee charter clearly states that anybody who has "signed a contract as a professional athlete" is ineligible to compete in the Games. However, the Canadian Olympic Hockey Committee, run by Sam Pollock and Alan Eagleson, has arbitrarily decided that players with 10 games or less of NHL experience are amateurs for Olympic purposes, and they're obviously hoping that if nobody formally protests, Hrudey can compete in the Games, Rule 26 or no. But the Canadians have run afoul of U.S. Olympic officials. The U.S. team, which has made no effort to seek out players who've signed NHL contracts, plays Canada in its opening game in Sarajevo on Feb. 7, and Walter Bush Jr., chairman of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Committee, warned, "If Canada had a Kelly Hrudey on their roster we would definitely protest." F. Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, also voiced opposition to the Canadian power play and said he would take up the issue with the IOC in Sarajevo.
As if the situation weren't delicate enough already, NHL president John Ziegler heavy-handedly got into the act with letters last month to Bush and Hal Trumble, executive director of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States, in which he supported the Canadian Olympic Association's contention that until a player has appeared in his llth NHL game, he's eligible for the Olympics. Although Bush, who's also a vice-president of the North Stars and is understandably reluctant to criticize the league president, insisted that Ziegler's letter to him was "friendly in tone," others familiar with the letters to Bush and Trumble characterized them as adding up to a thinly veiled threat. "The implication was there that if we filed a protest it might have a severely deteriorating effect on relations between the NHL and AHAUS," said one U.S. Olympic official. "Since the NHL contributes about $300,000 a year to AHAUS [of a total budget of roughly $1 million], it amounted to blackmail."
Why was the president of the NHL getting involved in an Olympic matter to begin with? Bush theorized that Ziegler was "pressured" into writing the letters by the ubiquitous Eagleson, who, in addition to his position with Canada's Olympic team, is the NHL players' union boss and an important figure in international hockey. But Ziegler said he was acting out of his conviction that in international amateur hockey " Canada and the U.S. have to stand together." He admitted that his letters to Bush and Trumble mentioned the subject of NHL financial contributions to U.S. amateur hockey. He said that this was meant as "a word to the wise. I was saying. 'Hey fellows, don't cut off your nose to spite your face.' " Curiously, Ziegler insisted that none of this could be taken as any kind of threat. Even if he was right, however, it was unfortunate that the president of a professional hockey league that has 14 of its 21 franchises in the U.S. was taking sides against the U.S. in an amateur hockey dispute. It was an especially strange move on the part of someone who earlier this month was named a recipient of the NHL's Lester Patrick Award "for outstanding service to hockey in the United States."
BIG CHILL AT THE BIG A
To promote the running last week of a race called the Broadway Handicap, publicists at Aqueduct got the idea of naming the day's other races after various shows like Cats, A Chorus Line and Dream-girls. It was a day for hunch players, although New York Post columnist Dick Young was mistaken in gleefully reporting that the winner of the race called La Cage aux Folles was Pair of Queens. In fact, that 3-year-old filly won another race, 42nd Street. A good one did come in, however, in the seventh, a race named after the nudie musical Oh! Calcutta! The winner of that one, paying $4.40, was It's Frigid.
MICKEY MOUSE YES, AUNT CLARA NO
In trying to pinpoint the reasons for Illinois' 45-9 shellacking by underdog UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Dan Smith, the Illini team psychologist, has reached some interesting conclusions. According to a UPI story, Smith believes that trips by the Illinois players to Disneyland and the L.A. mansion of Illinois Old Grad Hugh Hefner helped them prepare mentally for the game by fostering team unity. But Smith feels that their pregame concentration may have been hurt by too much fraternization with relatives. "The atmosphere those Mast 48 hours was all wrong and was totally unlike anything we had ever been through," Smith said. "Families were actually holding reunions with their sons, and one of the players told me, 'I didn't know my aunt was coming. I hadn't seen her in years.' "
The idea that players should consort before a game with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Playboy bunnies but not with family members doesn't necessarily mean that football is dehumanizing, as its critics always charge. But Smith certainly does seem to be suggesting that humans are defootballizing.