Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hockey Talk

Sitting at home after a great sunny day enjoying the CBC Hockey Night In Canada game with a cold beer... and of course wireless internet browsing catching up on some links and feeds, this is the life :-)

So I come across David Daniels post "It Takes Leadership" where he posts his thoughts on why team Canada (men's hockey) lost at the Olympics in Turino this year, a sport where the country as a whole feels it is our God given birthright to win each and every year/4-year cycle (isn't that obvious??). Well there's a few points that I felt needed a rebutal from yours truely, hockey crazed Canadian and business enthusiast, since he was a bit off the mark. Quotations are in italics:

"what it takes to win at hockey is the same thing it takes to win at business....leadership, strategy and team building."

...and skill. A "minor" point he missed, but one which sets up some of my other thoughts later on. Clearly you don't win championships in this game without skill, perhaps steal a game or two, but not championships. Germany consistantly shows great awareness of their skill set (or lack thereof) and builds a great 5 man back defensive system that frustrates more skilled opponents until they make an over-aggressive more or mistake when they pounce (heavy focus on their special teams as well). Germany has all three of Daniels trifecta: great system (strategy), strong leadership (Sturm, Bender and Kolzi provide god-like leadership at each position for the rest of the mostly non-NHL German players) and team building; but they don't have the skill level and hense will not win a championship until they can elevate it to the level of the top 6 nations.

Next points break down his arguements in each area that he feels: "Team Canada lacked in each" and then I state the real reason they did not succeed.

"He [Wayne Gretzky] selected an all National Hockey League, all veteran superstar squad."

If you think havign the all time goal/assist/record holder in the history of the game who has captained more NHL, national and other championship rings than you or I have fingers put together isn't the best source of leadership available in the world then you need to check yourself. I'm not even going to go into the vast resumes of the coaches and players involved, the point that Canada "lacked" leadership is obserd.

[In addition the notion that choosing a team with "Very few rookies or newbies" was somehow bad for the team will be looked at when he addresses that obtuse idea in the third section below.]

Under strategy he starts by exclaiming "selecting seasoned players was to mititgate risks" while deriving the conclusion that "the team was configured inappropriately for the Olympic version of the game." Um, your point is unsupported, and while your conclusion is correct (as I will explain later), your reasoning is way off base. Because of the extreme depth of players Canada can draw upon to build their team, there is no reason to choose rookies or "newbies" as there is clearly enough players with the some level of skill and higher levels of experience available. There are always exceptions of course, but the player with more experience should always be chosen over a player with the same level of skill with less experience when your talent pool is as limitless as it is for the Canadians.

Similarly his remark that the larger ice surface "Result[s] in a more athletic game than in the NHL." is ridiculous. They are different types of games requiring slightly different skill sets for optimal performance, but they are no less athletic in nature.

Also in Strategy he mentions: "building for the future, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, was missed. Many of the current team will not play on the 2010 squad given the natural rate of NHL player attrition. So the 2010 squad and its coach will have little Olympic experience as a result."

First of all Canada does not "build for the future", we play to win the championship. Canada has the best skilled players in the world, always have, always will. Every year we are the favorites to win, EVERY YEAR. We might not always succeed, but we will ALWAYS put out our best, because our best IS the best. Other countries need to "build" up teams to make a run every 3,4,5,10 years, I understand that. There's no point for example for a team like Germany (I'm picking on them because I love their effort so ;-) to play all their old vetrans if they know a younger crop of high skilled players are up and coming when they could give those younger players experience now which will pay off later. Canada will always be in a position to replace outgoing players with players of greater skill and with a plethora of experience internationally and from the NHL.

In fact, this year's Canadian team had the lowest number of returning players from the previous gold-medal winning team in Salt Lake! In addition over half of the current Olympic team will be around for the next Olympics in Vancouver (can't wait, already reserved my spot on a buddy's couch in Vancouver as I will for sure be there for the games!!). So his comment "So the 2010 squad and its coach will have little Olympic experience as a result." is just wrong.

His postering that the Canadian players must not have been drilled with a strategy is just laughable. In another case of getting the conclusion right but with incorrect supporting evidence, yes Russia "deserved the win" but not because they did more homework, but because they edged out the Canadians in an amazing hockey game between the two greatest hockey nations. Are you telling me that the Russians had some kind of superior "tactics" or "strategy" in that game which was neck and neck up until the very end?? Did you even watch that game?

At this point I would like to point out that I actually liked his post, thought there was some good insights and was of great interest subject wise. I may be harping on the negative, but please just take this as helpful tips so your next hockey-business analysis is a bit closer on the mark ;-)

Back to the lecture ;-)

Seriously it was a great post, other points he hits the nail on the head: "The team practiced once (the first time), then the next day they flew to Italy and the day after that played their first game". Ok that wasn't the first time they'd practiced together, they also had the summer camp, but it was definatly a mistake to fly the day before their first game (and it showed against Italy) and when the team failed to show "chemistry" by the third game they failed to make adjustments (other than some line changes) to fix it up. This chemistry problem was a direct result of the real reasons the Canadian team failed in Torino:

1 - They moved away from Wayne Gretzky's strategy of "taking the best available players". Wayne did this successfully in Salt Lake but success made him sway towards loyalties with his Torino team selections. When over 5 of the top Canadian scorers where not even on the ice for Torino you can safely say that he didn't pick the best available Canadian players. What the hell was Bertuzzi doing out there? He was no where near the playing shape/level of some other players left off the roster.

2 - Gretzky also didn't take enough account the effects the lockout had on older players. The conditioning and travel schedule did not help.

3 - We were missing our strong puck moving d-men due to injury, and more importantly the replacements did not fill that skill gap (McCabe instead of the fluid puck moving Boyle, pul-ease), that's on Gretzky too.

4 - Some players did not rise to the occation, most in fact with the exception of Sakic. Brodeur was less than average, Iginla ran into a rough spell, some players just did not show up.

5 -They did not have me on the ice ;-)

** To be clear, I'm not blaing Gretzky for the loss, although he was not as sharp as for Salt Lake and definatly deserves his share.

A long post, but a necessary one ;-) Time for another beer. So until next time, keep your head up and stick on the ice... :-)

Go Canada Go Vancouver 2010!!! :-)

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