Sunday, September 12, 2004

Stuck covering Team USA in Minnesota, the Toronto Sun's Mike Ulmer signs off with a nice anti-American rant.

Here's what's wrong with USA Hockey. Ron Wilson, a guy who you liked less and less with every word that tumbled from his mouth, was eulogizing Chris Chelios' career with USA Hockey after the Americans lost Friday night's semi-final against Finland.

Chelios is 42, a veteran of 20 years with the American program and has probably played his final game for Team USA.

"He has been a fantastic ambassador for U.S. hockey and for the NHL," Wilson said. "He's a class act."

Pardon me while I barf.

The biggest problem for USA Hockey is one of an almost constant delusion, that Chris Chelios is a fantastic ambassador, that Wilson can galvanize talent, that the Americans' win at the world juniors is a preview of a vast new wave of talent.

He goes on to talk about the Nagano Chair Destroying Incident, questions what the U.S. has accomplished since the Miracle on Ice ("miniscule gains") and predicts the team does not have a bright future.

Chelios may not be Gretzky in the class department, but what about the ankle breakers (Bobby Clarke), barroom brawlers (Lindros, Thornton), substance abusers (Fleury), adulterers (Brodeur) and reckless drivers (Heatley) that have proudly worn the Maple Leaf? Point being, most hockey players have their "boys will be boys" moments. The chair incident is not some great historic stain on Chelios.

Funny how you don't see the New York Post taking the time to mock the Canadian national baseball team, or Canadian college football players. If USA Hockey is worth pissing on, they must be doing something right.

Whether they'll have a great team in 2010, who knows, but the World Junior crown -- and the growth of junior hockey and high school hockey and U.S. college hockey overall -- is not to be dismissed so lightly. Does the program really think it's any better than it is? Or are we just proud to be competitive with a lot of other countries that may be smaller, but have been at the hockey thing for longer, and with much greater intensity?

And if the U.S. gains are unimpressive, then every time Canada has failed to win the gold has been an utter failure. Of course, Canada really does feel that way.

And yeah, GREAT game last night. I just wish the Czechs had scored a goal like Brewer did -- Quinn would still be bitching about goalie interference. And in light of the above, here's cranky Yankee Larry Brooks.

So when it was over, I walked into the Czech Republic locker room, whipped out my lasso, and wrestled Jaromir Jagr down to the ground. Just like the Canadians had done all night to No. 68 and to his crafty, speedy teammates.

Wait, someone thinks the Canadians don't play the purest, bestest brand of hockey in the world?

Yes, Brooks is known for his exaggeration, as is the Sun's Al Strachan. But they're both talking big-time sense about the lockout.

Brooks thinks the NHL would actually prefer to cancel the whole season. Don't know about that, but they sure haven't bargained in good faith. As Strachan says, they'd rather bust the union.

Truth is, for all the talk of prima donna players, there's no difference between Jeremy Roenick and Don Parsons, relative to who they work for. CHL fans tend to scoff when owners cite operating losses as the reason to cut down on vets, play a shorter schedule, and stick to a low cap. All to save, what, $100K a year? $200? Half a million?

But some of those guys really can't afford it. I find it much more ridiculous when six or seven of the richest people in America, businessmen whose corporate or individual worth is measured in the high hundred millions, want to quibble over ten or twenty. No, they're not obligated to lose money, but the players don't have a moral obligation to make less either. And frankly, fans of teams like the Stars, Red Wings, Flyers, Avalanche and (cough-cough) Rangers shouldn't be forced to watch a $31 million roster.

People say, the NBA has a salary cap, why can't the NHL? Well, the NBA salary cap last year was $43.84 million, plus exceptions and the "Larry Bird exemption." And that's for half as many players on a team. The NHLPA would take a deal like that tomorrow.

The problem is the NHL's insistence not only on a hard cap, but on a really low one. Obviously that's based on the idea that hockey doesn't generate anywhere near the money hoops does, but somebody had the cash to give these players in the first place.

The worst irony of all is, much of that money stemmed from the owners' willingness to give a team to any city with $50-80 million and an ice plant. Then they turn around and say teams like Columbus, Minnesota, Tampa, Florida, Ottawa, Nashville and Atlanta can't compete with the big markets.
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