After two days off due to concerns about the track conditions, Aqueduct is up and running today. With both Aqueduct and Santa Anita off yesterday, it’s no surprise that Tampa Bay had its fifth largest handle ever.
And as glad as I am to see racing return to my fair city, I must confess that Thoroughbreds are not going to get a lot of my attention today. My sporting eyes will be turned north and west, for what many of us have been waiting for these whole Olympics: Canada vs. US in the gold medal game, the final event of this Olympiad.
I’m not much a fan of the Olympics: while I find impressive the talent, courage, strength, and heart of the athletes, I don’t follow the sports all year long, and thus these every-four-year tilts lack the context necessary to make them compelling to me.
But hockey…ah, that’s another story. I was skeptical at first of NHL players joining the Games, remembering all too well the exultation of the 1980 win. It didn’t take long, though, for me to embrace the format, to recognize its benefits for the Olympics and the NHL (at the expense, unfortunately, of college athletes).
Unlike our neighbor to the north, we’re not a country that cares much about hockey. In Canada, you can get news about hockey every single day of the year on TV, on the radio, in podcasts. Here, hockey is big in a few markets, an afterthought in some, and non-existent in most.
But during the Olympics, even the people who have no idea that yes, now there’s a team in Phoenix, and oh, yeah, one in Tampa Bay—that one even won the Stanley Cup—pay attention to hockey. And they learn the names of players (OK, probably everyone knows a Ryan Miller, but now they know that there’s a pretty good US-born goalie with that name, too), and they sort of get a sense of who plays where, and in the best of worlds, that enthusiasm carries over to these last few weeks of the NHL regular season, and Stanley Cup tournament.
So in the face of this excitement, in the face of likely the greatest interest in hockey in the last decade, what does Commission Gary Bettman want to do? Threaten at every opportunity to pull the NHL from the 2014 games. This from the man who thought that teams in the Sun Belt would be better than teams in Canada, from the man who has overseen a league in which barely solvent teams get to set the financial terms for those who make money. Now he wants to pull the plug on the only hockey tournament that most people ever watch.
This afternoon, I’ll be rooting for Canada—I love the US team, but it’s Canada’s game, on home ice. Regardless of the fervor of some US hockey fans (like me), you have to admit that it means more to them than to us. And from a purely literary perspective, it’s the perfect ending to the story. But no matter who gets the gold medal, the game is a win-win for fans of both countries, for the Olympics, and for the NHL.
So at 2:55 today, turn off the phone, turn on the television, crack open a Molson’s (but make sure that the IOC isn’t watching), and toast this gift of a sport brought to us by Canada, and the gift of this particular game, USA vs. Canada, the match-up we’ve all been waiting for. Because if Bettman has his way, you might not ever see it again.