Great Hockey Does Not Depend Upon Star Power…Even In the Olympics

What can you say about yesterday’s gold medal game?

It was awesome

And it was awesome because of the discipline shown by Team USA and Team Canada.

Both teams stuck to their game plans. There was no panic. The US didn’t panic when they went down by two goals and Canada didn’t panic when the US tied it up.

Instead, Team USA continued its aggressive forecheck and Team Canada played a restrained game, waiting for the US (and American goalie Ryan Miller) to make mistakes.

It made for a great game because things never got out of hand. Canada and the US never seemed ready to run away with the whole game.

But it was also a great game because it was smart hockey executed well. It wasn’t about star power, so much as it was about teamwork and support on both ends of the puck. And that’s what people were responding to when they talked (or tweeted) about how incredible yesterday’s game was.

NBC made Sidney Crosby a storyline, especially once he won the game, but he wasn’t a huge factor in the Olympics.

Ryan Miller had an incredible game, and his goaltending certainly made the game more exciting, but the excitement was helped by the performance of the team playing in front of him.

Today you’ll read a lot of stories about how good the Olympics will be for the NHL and how the gold medal game was great because it was played by the NHL’s best players. But the fact of the matter is, the game was great because the NHL’s best players accepted roles and executed those roles perfectly.

The Olympic gold medal game was exciting, but no more exciting than any number of big games you’ll see during the NHL post-season played by normal, non-star-studded NHL teams. Well-played hockey with something at stake is just an inherently exciting activity. The Olympics were exciting because a gold medal was on the line. But two normal NHL teams playing to get into the next round of the playoffs wouldn’t necessarily be less exciting than yesterday’s game.

The NHL doesn’t need the Olympics or stars to produce great hockey. The NHL already produces great hockey. All the NHL needs is fans to care about great hockey. The Olympics simplifies the caring mechanism. If you’re American, you know to root for Team USA. If you’re Canadian, you know to root for Team Canada.

For everyone else outside of those two populations, the gold medal results are probably more academic than anything else.

In the NHL playoffs, though, things are more complicated. Like if you don’t follow a team, you’re probably not going to sit and watch them play. And once your team is eliminated, you’re probably not going to follow the playoffs as closely.

And that’s where you lose the critical mass of hockey-watching seen yesterday with the gold medal game.

So yesterday’s game was great, but not because it was NHL stars playing in the Olympics. Yesterday’s game was great because it was NHL players doing their thing.

The NHL doesn’t need the Olympics to produce great hockey. The NHL produces great hockey.

Let’s not forget what made USA/Canada a fantastic few hours of hockey.