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MacGregor: Simply ludicrous that way wasn’t found to get Canadians on the ice

Let's just make sure we have this straight.

Forty-seven of the best hockey players from the world's richest league are brought to Calgary for an orientation camp heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games – where they will be expected to successfully defend their gold medal – and they don't even lace up?

Instead, they end up playing ball hockey?

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Maybe I was just too far away – so deep in the bush not even Twitter could reach – to hear the laughter, but please, please, please tell me that someone, somewhere pointed at the players running about with their names on the backs of T-shirts and laughed so hard they fell to the ground holding their stomachs.

The International Olympic Committee voted to put wrestling back into the Summer Games; perhaps it's not too late to get mini-sticks or driveway hockey into the Winter Games – medals Canada would most assuredly have a lock on.

Big ice, small ice, it's still hockey.

NHL rules, IIHF rules, it's still hockey.

But skates, no skates – it ain't hockey.

The excuse given was the insurance costs were prohibitive, though this does not appear to have been the case in other hockey-playing countries.

No one, apparently, was willing to step up to the plate and pay the $1.2-million (U.S.) policy that would have covered booboos more serious than the scraped knees and hurt feelings that are the harsh reality of competitive ball hockey.

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This seems simply ludicrous. Hockey Canada, which has prospered wonderfully since the NHL released its players to play for their countries 15 years ago, could easily have afforded it, yet most Canadians would agree such a sum is better spent on the organization's mandate to promote and support the national game at the lower levels.

The NHL itself – an entity so rich in 2005 Bloomberg reported the league thumbed its nose at a $4-billion buyout offer from Bain Capital LLC – could have paid the insurance fee with money shaken out of the couch in commissioner Gary Bettman's New York office.

Plug your ears whenever you hear another NHL owner whining about the cost of shutting down for a few weeks every four years. There is no way to measure the vast revenues generated by heightened interest in the NHL game and its players that connects directly to the Winter Games.

It is also somewhat bewildering one of the blue-chip sponsors of the NHL or Hockey Canada failed to step forward and purchase several million dollars' worth of good will merely by picking up the insurance tab.

Canadians, it seems, simply accepted the argument that the costs could not be justified and ball hockey would have to suffice.

If there was much laughter, it wasn't as loud as it would have been had, say, the Olympic speed-skating relay team, also a gold-medal winner, been told to keep their sneakers on and just play tag instead.

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But this, of course, is a country that reveres its national game to a point where, for a previous Olympics, a heavily attended press conference was called to reveal the name of the third goaltender on the team – a player who would not even be playing. Let the Americans put God on their currency; Canadians prefer to worship shinny.

In other words, don't laugh.

It won't be known until late February whether or not anything that happened or did not happen in Calgary had any effect, but it is safe to assume the NHL has a strong vested interest in having any team but Russia win that precious gold medal.

A victory by the home side would bolster the argument that stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk made the right move in walking away from his NHL contract to play in the KHL, a league that is both expanding rapidly and quickly growing in respectability.

Canada remains the team to beat in Sochi, and the Americans, given their silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games and their impressive success last winter in the world junior event, are a team bound to be charged by the location.

But so, too, will Russian stars Alexander Ovechkin and Kovalchuk and others be motivated to show the rest of the NHL up on home ice.

The last thing the NHL would ever want would be for a rival league to claim to be as good.

Which, intriguingly, leads to a question that may one year rise. If the Stanley Cup is indeed a "challenge cup," as it was deemed when given to the Canadian people in 1892, and if the NHL doesn't actually own the Stanley Cup, as argued rather successfully by those shinny-playing Toronto lawyers during the previous player lockout, then might …?

Not likely, but this game is not unfamiliar with madness.

Such as the summer of 2013, when Team Canada worked on its ball hockey skills because no one would step forward and take out an insurance policy.


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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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