Thursday, February 20, 2014

Country v. Crosby

Here we go.  The showdown I figured was coming.  Team USA v. Team Canada (or, as I refer to them, Team-Crosby-and-Kunitz-plus-some-other-people).  With USA's win today over the Czech Republic and Canada's slim win over Latvia, they advance to face one another on Friday, and I'll have to decide where I stand:  with my country or my favorite player.

Maybe that seems like it should be easy.  And maybe it should be.  But, it's not as easy as you think.  I really respect the men who play for my home team, which is not Team USA, it's the Penguins. And those are international faces. Therefore, while I am very happy for Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maata, my heart broke a little today for Evgeni Malkin (but, truthfully, that was offset by some evil-spirited glee to contemplate that Alexander Ovechkin is currently unhappy).  Yet, I hold in the highest esteem of all:  Sidney Crosby (cue fanfare).  He's devastatingly handsome, there is that.  But, that's not really what it is for me (not that I don't notice it on a regular basis).   It's just such a privilege to watch him play the sport.  And I truly mean that.  I've said it out loud a few times during a game, "Wow, I feel privileged to have just seen that."

I've seen him control the puck down the ice, almost as if he and it are one, gliding with the skill of a dancer through a throng of defenders.  His puck management is artistry, as is Malkin's, but where Geno makes interesting passes (as in bad) sometimes in my opinion, Sidney is a master at it.  And, of course, can the man shoot the puck?  That can leave me speechless!  How many times have you seen Sid get his team the win in a clutch moment?  Surely sometimes he hasn't, but really - with everything riding on the line - can you tell me whom you'd rather have on the ice wearing your uniform right then?  And, think about it, he plays for my city's team.  I get to see him live several times a year.  I am so fortunate.

So, to return that favor, I want Sidney Crosby to do well in all things and be happy in all things.  He makes me happy, so he deserves it.  To my mind anyway.  Chris Kunitz, while maybe not quite as high on my hockey altar, also makes me happy, and I tend to think people underestimate him as a player - which makes me a little protectively mad.

And I like Canada.  There is so much beauty there.  And they gave us Rush after all.  Bless them.  Anyway, driven by player loyalty and no reason to wish the country as a whole ill, there was no question four years ago what team I was rooting for in that thrilling gold medal match-up.  I even learned the Canadian National Anthem.

This year, however, I'm torn.  For one thing, my nose got out of joint when James Neal got snubbed for the team.  I know all the reasons why, but whatever, I felt he was snubbed.  Then, I was livid when I heard the buzz circulating about whether or not Crosby was hurting the team, and whether Kuni actually even deserved to be on it, that he was only chosen to make Sidney comfortable.  For one thing, has anyone saying any of that watched any Olympic hockey?  All the teams have struggled to find some chemistry.  Passes weren't sharp in the preliminary round, turnovers were sometimes making me wince.  Players who usually play against one another have to learn to play together in a matter of days.

And, let's not forget, with all those challenges, Canada wasn't losing.  Maybe they weren't burying their opponents, but it seemed awfully petty for a fan base with no losses to be whining about not enough star power out of Sidney Crosby - the very man who gave them a gold medal last time.  You know what, fine, send Crosby and Kunitz back to us in Pittsburgh where we'll appreciate them.  Maybe you do not deserve them.

Now add to that the fact that two Pens will be playing on the American side, plus Coaches Bylsma and Granato and our general manager Ray Shero being all part of the team.  The Red, White and Blue is pretty populated with some Black and Gold this year.  Makes them hard to root against without feeling like a total traitor on all levels.

Yet, I do not want to see any of the Penguins players sad at the end of the day.  I don't want second guesses and whispers to follow them back to us - their truly loyal and adoring fans.  Yet, the game demands it:  there must be a winner.  Therefore, there must be a loser, and I must watch someone whom I respect deeply wrestle with the emotions of deep disappointment.  So what do I do?

Finally, after some deep soul searching, I have decided that I will remain true to my country and just hope they all come home to Pittsburgh healthy and work together to win all of us a Stanley Cup.

Go Team USA!

ABC News

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