Listen to any Canadian Olympic coverage and you’ll notice a Saskatchewan-sized chasm with regard to how hockey fortunes are couched versus the rest of the events.
Hockey is about a single golden expectation; everything else is about hope.
The all-or-nothing focus on the men’s hockey team is often brought up in a negative context and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve pondered and pontificated on how Sidney Crosby and Co. will cope with the crushing, potentially unrealistic assumptions of the people they represent.
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But let’s not forget the other side to this equation, the one that reminds you it’s far better to have lofty goals and fail than set the bar low and hope for the best.
Being a Canadian player in this rabid environment can’t always be easy, but it’s certainly no more difficult than trying to win a gold medal without ultimate and absolute belief in your abilities. The expectations exist for a reason; Canada sent the best team to these Games, the ridiculously talented Russian squad notwithstanding.
Certainly you can see the potential for pressure cracks to surface when things don’t go well, but I have to believe that would be much more of an issue if the roster wasn’t packed full of cocksure players who knew the lay of the land long before launching themselves at the opportunity to play on the world’s best hockey team.
To put it in another context, every time a player signs a free agent deal in a sunny, southern NHL outpost, part of me completely understands the motivation. Walk around the city in peace. Play golf on off days. Move about with anonymity and never really have to answer to a swarm of media when things aren’t going well.
But another part of me always embraces the mentality of people who want to play in a Canadian city or hockey-mad American center. Yes, there’s more stress and external pressure to contend with, but there’s also the reward of plying your craft under conditions where they’re truly appreciated and the result of that creates a feeling unequalled in places where the same expectations don’t exist.
Really, there are the kind of people in the world who shirk responsibility in favor of a free pass if things go wrong and those who actively and enthusiastically take on bigger roles because they enjoy the challenge and ensuing satisfaction a job well done can provide.
Nobody on Team Canada chose to be Canadian any more than the other players had a say in what jersey they wear. They’re all proud, fierce competitors who will do whatever it takes to push their way onto that podium.
But the next time a discussion about Canada buckling under the crush of a nation’s intense gaze comes up, don’t forget that big achievements always start with high expectations and nobody in red and white would want it any other way.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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