By the Book

The Olympic Winter Games are well underway across the pond in Turin, Italy. They’re a showcase for amateur athletes to demonstrate the lifetime of effort they put into their sports on the world’s biggest stage. They’re also being touted as a showcase for the NHL. But does the NHL need the showcase? Well, it is coming off a crippling lockout, and is desperately trying to regain the American fan base that abandoned the game for NASCAR racing and Arena football by showcasing the world’s best players at the Olympics.

Wait a second. this sounds a lot like the World Cup of Hockey. The NHL showcasing its best players trying to regain a fan base after a crippling labour dispute. sound familiar? In 1996, after the 1994-1995 season was shortened due to a lockout, the World Cup of Hockey was born. In 2006, after the 2004-2005 season was cancelled due to a lockout, the NHL is, for the third time, taking over the Winter Olympics.

Why? Why take the spotlight away from these highly-talented amateur athletes who wait four years for their moment, to instead promote the millionaire players of a professional league, when you have another competition that does the same thing?

Soccer has many of the same problems. They also already have a best-on-best competition every four years, ironically coinciding with the winter Olympics. They institute an age limit of under 23 on players representing their countries to highlight the up-and-coming players of the sport while still keeping a high level of play for the countries of the world who may never see such a high calibre of soccer.

Why not do the same thing for hockey? Most of the controversy surrounding the Canadian Olympic team centers on the omission of Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Eric Staal and Jason Spezza. With the age limit in place, they’d all make the team, and they’d do a better job of promoting the future of the game than ageing veterans like Joe Sakic, Kris Draper, and Rob Blake. Patrice Bergeron, and 2006 Olympians Rick Nash and Jay Bouwmeester would also be members of that team.

These changes would apply to other country’s teams as well. American Phil Kessel, considered to be the U.S. version of Crosby, would replace Doug Weight. It would give the players who we love at Christmas time when they represent their country at the World Under-20 Championships a chance to be part of the Olympics, while putting the spotlight on the young athletes who fly under the radar in the NHL.

Even if the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) were to make these changes, they would probably still have to stop the season, because I don’t think Pittsburgh would appreciate losing Crosby just as Washington wouldn’t like being without 20-year-old superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

I just think that having guys like Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla in the Olympic Village undermines what the Olympics are all about. And the fact that many athletes turned down their invitation to the Olympics? That alone shows that these professionals do not deserve to be playing there. Give me the kids who would give anything to represent the logo on the front of the jersey and not care about the name on the back, and I’d take them over the spoiled superstars any day.

The best Olympic hockey memories are from when the amateurs were playing. No one will ever forget the 1980 ‘miracle on ice’ that is still the most remarkable upset in sports history. And who could forget that amazing 1994 Sweden-Canada game, where a 19-year-old Paul Kariya went head-to-head with an equally young Peter Forsberg in a shootout that had Forsberg end up on a stamp in his native country?

The age limit gives the kids the chance to make names for themselves while the entire world is watching, and that’s what the Olympics are all about.

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