And by "different" I mean "interesting." Or, if you prefer, "watchable."
That sound you hear is every rabid, unstable hockey fan (redundant?) turning on his computer to dash off an angry missive about why I'm an idiot and how I don't appreciate the game the way they do. In advance, I'd like to address those people: You're absolutely right on both fronts. Also, when referring to me, please note that "moron" has but a single "r" in it. Some of you have had trouble with that in the past.
How can Olympic hockey not be more compelling than the mercenary version peddled by the NHL, a league that consistently ranks last among the four major sports in television ratings? Anyone who watched Canada's thrilling shoot-out win over Switzerland could sense the obvious urgency and pressure.
That's how it goes in the Olympics - the game feels more intense. When Chris Pronger (who is suiting up for the Canadians) was asked what might happen if he has a chance to unleash a punishing check on Flyers teammate Kimmo Timonen (who is playing for the glory of his fellow Finns), he didn't hesitate. "Sucks to be him," Pronger told The Inquirer.
The Olympics are like a hockey civil war - brother fighting brother in the name of emancipating our (or at least your) puck-loving souls. Then, when the last drop of blood is shed and the final biscuit has been fired into the basket, they will reunite for the good of the union.
Tell the truth: You're a little verklempt, aren't you?
Updating an old axiom, Olympic hockey is about the name on the front of the sweater instead of those on the back (that I often can't remember - or spell). Even better, the international game affords demoralized citizens of respective nations a reason to feel good for once. If you live in Newark or Ottawa - widely regarded as the "Newark of the North" - watching your country win tonight's game will almost certainly be the highlight of your year. (Incidentally, have you seen The Ontario Shore? Those Canadian gals can fist pump with the best of them.)
As an added and personal benefit, Olympic hockey has presented me with the opportunity to catch up with a friend. A pal of mine covers pro hockey and recently asked me to grab a beer.
"I can go out," he said. "The NHL is on break."
To which I quickly replied: "It is?"
Bronze: Apparently all the TV outlets have reached an agreement that their talent must stand outside in the cold when covering a sport - even if that sport is played indoors. For reasons known only to the Worldwide Leader, ESPN has, at least twice, forced John Buccigross, Matthew Barnaby, and Barry Melrose to chat about men's hockey while snow fell on their uncovered (and likely very angry) heads.
We get it. It's the Winter Olympics. No need to force it.
If the WWL really wants to manufacture a scene, they ought to fold Chris Berman onto one of those tiny skeleton sleds and give him a good push down the luge track.
Silver: When was the last time former Olympic figure skater turned NBC analyst Scott Hamilton saw the sun? He needs to go outside immediately. The guy looks like Darth Vader when they peeled his mask off at the end of the movie with the Ewoks in it.
Gold: Nothing like an awkward, vaguely sexual non sequitur to warm the heart on a cold day. It's almost as good as Scotch, and NBC serves it freely.
Reporter Alex Flanagan did a story on something called "the snow limo" - basically a rickshaw for lazy, rich snow bunnies - and ended the piece by saying, "The snow limo: opening the mountain to everyone." It was typical Olympic detritus.
Back in the studio, Al Michaels took over. When the package ended, he stared into the camera and, with his usual Mr. Miracle inflection and authority, said "Alex Flanagan . . . We're all in."
Mr. Alex Flanagan will be thrilled to hear that, Al. Probably NBC HR, too.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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