Olympic Hockey Tournament Rant
First and very quickly, the NHL. Forbidding players like Irbe and Palffy and many others from playing for their country, instead forcing them to play in such earth-shattering contests as Carolina-Anaheim and L.A.-Phoenix? Disgusting. Patriotism is fine for Americans after September 11, enough so that the league allows clubs to put US flags and red white and blue ribbons on the ice, sure. But if a guy is patriotic enough to fly and drive across country overnight to play an Olympic hockey game for his nation, as Satan and Palffy and Irbe and Fedotenko and etc. etc. etc. are? No good. Bettman threatens to suspend the guy and threatens to fine the club $1 million for not icing "the best roster possible." Right. Tampa-Nashville. In February. During an 82-game season.
As for the IIHF's decision to go with head-to-head instead of goal difference, this is what comes of such a stupid choice: Slovakia lost their first game to Germany. The next day, Germany play at 4pm, Slovakia at 7. Germany win the early game, meaning the worst record they can finish with is 2-1-0. Even before they play their second game, Slovakia's best possible finish is 2-1-0. But since Germany have already beaten Slovakia, they will automatically finish ahead of 'em, no matter what happens. So, after playing *only one game*, Slovakia are eliminated. Great drama, huh. And after two games over in the other group, Belarus have 4 points, Ukraine 2. That *should* mean that each team's final game will be drenched in anxiety, no? Will Ukraine win and Belarus lose, and by how much? Will it come down to goal difference? Well, no -- because Belarus beat Ukraine in the opener, 1-0, Ukraine cannot catch Belarus. The final games are meaningless. Nice going, IIHF.
And now to our feature rant, CNBC's coverage of the hockey tournament. It's great that all the games are being carried on the channel -- but the quality of the coverage? Oy! The camerawork is fine, and certainly the fast pace of play, unblemished by long commercial breaks, is great. But the announcers' ignorance is frankly unbelievable!
You'd think with all the researchers NBC has at its disposal, and with all this time to prepare themselves, the announcers, or at least their assistants, would have bothered to learn a thing or two about European hockey. Not a chance. To give just one example, there was a close-up of Latvian goaler Naumovs on the screen, and on his mask some tape was covering something up. At the bottom of his mask, meanwhile, there's a huge crest for his club team, Djurgardens. So what does John Davidson say? That the masking tape is covering up the club name, because it's not allowed to be shown in the Olympics. But what about the huge crest for Djurgardens, the Swedish champions two years running, hanging out there for all to see?
Not that Davidson or any other US announcer even knows what Djurgardens is -- through the first two days of competition, they haven't named a single player's Euro club team, instead spewing endlessly about all the ECHL experience some guy has, as if his current European team doesn't exist. In fact, Davidson refers to the national teams themselves as "clubs" ("That's really going to fire up the Latvian club!")
But we shouldn't pick on Davidson alone -- all the announcers show that level of ignorance, whether it's Kenny Albert droning on without pause about Vladimir Tsyplakov's house in Los Angeles while at that very moment, down on the ice, France and Belarus are pummeling each other, banging shots off goalposts, and getting enormous saves from their keepers late in a critical tie game, whether it's Gary Thorne calling Germany a "league team" that's "used to working together", apparently because most of their players perform in the domestic league, albeit on opposing teams, or whether it's Davidson (back to him again), talking about the big money German clubs have at the very same time when Munich, the three-time champion, are moving because of poor fan interest and three other German league clubs are facing bankruptcy.
But the worst of all came in the form of an extremely unfortunate oversight by Joe Micheletti. He was going on about the Belarus "program" and what great strides it's made in recent years thanks to President Aleksander Lukashenko's love of hockey and his personal involvement in funding new rinks. Hey, says Joe, Lukashenko was just re-elected, too! Well, if Micheletti had bothered to read a couple of paragraphs about Belarus, a country he's *covering* on national TV, for chrissake, he'd see that Lukashenko is considered a Soviet-style strongman who has used physical intimidation and even, probably, murder to silence the press and his political opponents, several of whom have fled the country or disappeared outright. Belarus is considered a human-rights disaster area, and the New York Times calls Lukashenko himself a "dictator".
Which doesn't mean we're not happy to see Belarus advance, but it does put a different and indeed more interesting spin on how the administration of their national team works. This is the kind of thing people are missing from CNBC's coverage, whether it's a bigger political issue like Belarus, or whether it's a small, inside-hockey kind of thing like knowing what Djurgardens's crest looks like. We could hope for better as things move into the medal round, but that seems as likely as seeing Switzerland there.
Jeff Z. Klein and Karl-Eric Reif. Klein and Reif write for 'The New York Times' and 'The Village Voice' and are the authors of 'The Death of Hockey,' 'The Coolest Guys On Ice,' 'Original Six,' 'The All-New Hockey Compendium,' and other works.
Copyright © 2002 - "Above & Beyond Hockey" and Jeff Z. Klein & Karl-Eric Reif