Souls are bleeding
TURIN - It really stinks when the reader writes it better.
This from Anders of Espoo, Finland regarding the four quarter-final contests in men's hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympics today. "The cruelest day in the world of hockey. And the longest.
"Souls are bleeding tonight."
True enough. A semi-final berth at the Olympics insulates most national teams from intense criticism, while a loss in the Olympic quarterfinals is a disaster. Even Switzerland, in this tournament, would be deeply disappointed to lose to Sweden today, particularly after the Swedes considered throwing a game against the Slovaks to produce a quarter-final match with the Swiss.
Don't know any throwing was done. But the Swedes certainly played like they had every intention of losing.
Last night, in anticipation of the quarters today and in honour of the gambling 'scandal' that preceded the arrival of NHLers in Italy, it was time to do a little wagering.
An informal gathering at the restaurant La Dolce Vita in northeast Turin, near the Villagio Mortara, or The Mortuary, as those media persons sentenced to hard labor at the media village have dubbed it, quickly produced a game-winning goal pool for the Canada-Russia match.
The backdrop to the pool was Johnny, the owner/ranconteur of La Dolce Vita, who was insistent on telling jokes to seven Canadians and one Finn, the highly enjoyable and intense Vesa Rantanen of the Finnish sports publication IS Veikkaaja. If you want to know what's going on in Euro hockey, you get the scoop from Vesa or the remarkably informed Klaus Zaugg of Blick in Switzerland.
At any rate, Johnny, an impish, middle-aged sort always willing to re-open the kitchen for the wee-hours-of-the-morning crowd, wanted to tell jokes, but he didn't speak a work of English.
Enter Andreas and Oliver, two Munich-based representatives of German public television. They were eager to help, although Andreas didn't speak English and Oliver didn't speak Italian.
So Johnny would deliver his jokes piece by piece to Andreas, who would translate to German to Oliver, who would translate to the audience.
The result was gales of laughter, probably well exceeding the actual humour content of the jokes themselves.
Interrupted only by these multilingual jokes and the remarkable inability of journalists to concentrate for any period of time on the simplest of matters, the pool proceeded.
Eight entrants - well nine, given that Star teammate Paul Hunter and I decided to go on the cheap and share a squad - drafted from the 40-man combined roster of Canadians and Russians. Being cheap and/or shackled by per diems, the cost per entrant was 10 Euros, the grand prize thus 80 Euros.
Almost enough to get you halfway to Milano by cab, and leaving is utmost on the minds of many media visitors at the moment despite the outrageous friendliness of the Torinese, the most welcoming and generous locals by far of the three Winter Olympiads I've attended.
We'll keep the names out to protect the dim-witted, but the first player drafted was Alexei Kovalev of the Russians, and by a native Canadian.
Alright, upon further review the drafter in question was Scott Burnside of ESPN.com.
The last player to be selected was Russian defenceman Darius Kasparaitis, and won't CP's Bill Beacon be shocked if that turns out to be the winning ticket.
Hunter and I hummed and hawed and ultimately picked first Simon Gagne, then Vincent Lecavalier. We took a flier on Rick Nash, said what the hell on Bryan McCabe as the pickings were getting slim and at the end were stuck with Russian blueliner Anton Volchenkov.
If you get the feeling Hunter and I think Canada will win today, you'd be correct.
Why? Just a feeling, hardly based on the results of the Olympic tourney so far. Maybe it was something Brad Richards said yesterday about finally delivering a performance Canada was used to delivering against competition it was used to facing.
For decades, Canadian kids have been growing up now with the idea of playing the Russians in hockey. Those contests have usually taken place at Canada Cup/World Cup tourneys, world championships or world junior championships, and they've been pretty satisfying stuff.
But this is the Olympics, and Canada hasn't beaten a Moscow-based club since the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchman went to Squaw Valley in 1960 determined to repair the damage to the Canadian hockey psyche done by their bronze medal performance in Cortina four years earlier.
The Dutchies didn't get the gold, but did win the silver and beat the Soviet Union, 8-5, with a roster that featured Harry Sinden, Bob Attersley, Bobby Rousseau, Darryl Sly and the goaltending of Don Head.
And that was the last time Canada beat the Russians at the Olympics.
At Innsbruck in '64, Father Bauer's Canadian nationals dropped a 3-2 decision. Four years later in Grenoble, France, it was the Soviets again by 5-0 score.
After skipping the '72 and '76 Games in a fit of pique and in disagreement over the "amateur" status of European players, Canada returned to the fold for the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, lost 6-4 to the Soviets and finished sixth.
In 1984 at Sarajevo, Canada lost 4-0 to the Red Machine, and lost again, 5-0, four years after that in Calgary. In 1992 at Albertville, the Unified Team beat Canada twice, and two years after that in Lillehammer the two countries didn't meet, with Russia losing to Sweden in the semis, and Canada losing to the Tre Kronor in the final on a shootout and Peter Forsberg's postage stamp goal.
Since NHLers took over in '98, 2002 and this year, Canada and the Russians haven't met even once.
Which makes today a piece of hockey history, regardless of the outcome.
It's one of those days you feel just a little bit priveleged to do the job, even if Anders of Espoo writes it just a little better.