No straight answers

Gary Bettman is not anti-Olympics.

Gary Bettman says so.

The hot topic at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit this week has been whether the NHL will continue its involvement at the Olympics. It’s all up in the air … will we be watching the best of the best at Sochi, Russia, come 2014?

Who knows.

Let’s get one thing straight: Gary Bettman is smart. Damn smart.

That doesn’t mean you have to like the guy, right? The NHL commissioner knows doublespeak. He knows spin. And he knows how to leave us thinking he answered a question when he really didn’t say much of anything at all.

So are there going to be NHL players in Sochi or not, Gary?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

“The Olympics are a mixed bag,” Bettman told the WHS delegates this afternoon, during a question-and-answer session with fellow loathsome creature, TSN Pierre (Monster Mash) Maguire.

“Vancouver was very, very, very good but there are still some issues and problems. We want to keep it in balance. In Vancouver, everything was spectacular. It was good. But when the Olympics are held outside of North America, it tips to the other side of the spectrum.”

We know the issues. We went over them this morning, right? Break in the schedule, tired players … blah blah blah.

Check out these issues the NHL had in Vancouver, though:

  • Access to players by NHL team general managers and owners
  • Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch couldn’t get into whatever building he wanted to get into

What? Pardon me but boo fucking hoo. Why does Ilitch need access into whichever building he wants? Just to say hi to Henrik or Pavel?

Like he can’t go two weeks without passing them in the hallway and nodding in their general manager? Yes, I know, Ilitch is one of the most involved, engaged and interested owners in the league and one of the most powerful men in Michigan but when it comes to the Olympics, he ends up as a little fish in a big pond.

Bettman’s response?

“They may sound like little things and they are, but there’s a long list of them and we’ll have to go through each one with the IOC.”

Bettman can put those little things on the grocery list of things that need to be resolved for NHL involvement but if I was sitting at that table, I’d be rolling my eyes just a tiny little bit.

It would be easier to accept NHL disengagement with the Olympics if they kept the issues to those of a serious nature.

The good news is the NHL doesn’t yet have a deadline to make a decision. There appears to be lots of time in order to come to a hard yes or no.

Part of it, says Bettman, is waiting for the IOC to determine the broadcasting rights for the Sochi Olympics.

“We have to consider how we’re going to be carried, how we’re going to be promoted, if we’re going to disappear for two weeks,” says Bettman. “Should we participate if there’s an eight-hour difference in time zones and games are played at 4 a.m. instead of two in the afternoon …

“The games that matter for our viewing audiences have to be played at times that make sense.”

OK, that’s more logical.

Because, as Bettman says, the NHL is accountable to its fans.

“It’s a mixed bag on whether they want us to participate,” he says. “Some say the Olympics hurt their teams and some say the Olympics are for amateurs and we’re possibly depriving those individuals of the opportunity.

“We started something we thought was right (in Nagano). We haven’t no. I’m not anti-Olympics. We have to re-evaluate, evaluate and then decide at the appropriate time.”

So there you have it.

Will the NHL be involved in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

Private jets, gold medals and roses

Like the best of the best hockey players don’t get paid enough by their NHL clubs, Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland also wants a private jet to get them home to North America.

What if, Holland posits, a player is in the gold-medal game on Sunday and has to be back in North America for a game on Tuesday night?

n276855599228_1407“We need a private plane that takes players back from Europe,” he said.

Normally, you wouldn’t find an untoward word about Holland out of these fingers but c’mon, this has to be an issue with respect to NHL involvement in the Olympics?

If that’s an important issue, why not have the teams pony up?

And another point from Holland?

“We had guys have to wait in line with 3,000 people for their credentials.”

Oh dear.

The International Ice Hockey Federation wants NHL players there. The NHL players want to be there … who the hell wouldn’t want to wear his national-team jersey and play for Olympic gold?

The typical issues of contention were bandied about this morning at the Vancouver 2010 Evaluation session at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit (WHS) … Two-week break in the Olympic schedule? Bad. Injuries to players? Bad. Tired players leading into playoffs? Bad.

While we all waited with baited breath for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to descend upon us in the afternoon, Igor Kuperman, hockey historian and instrumental in the launch of the KHL, says tough shit.

No … he didn’t really say ‘tough shit.’ That’s just me paraphrasing.

He did, however, say the issues aren’t as serious as the NHL is making them out to be.

“A break in the schedule is no big deal,” Kuperman said. “Your fans have already bought tickets. They are going to come back after the Olympics. You get breaks to refresh your players who aren’t going to the Olympics and their injuries can heal.”

He reminded the WHS delegates that three of those ‘dead-tired’ players returning from the Olympics returned to do all right for their respective NHL teams … Jonathan Toews, Stanley Cup winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP; Patrick Kane, Stanley Cup winner and scored Cup-winning goal in overtime; and Henrik Sedin, winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

But Holland reminded us of Steve Yzerman missing the remainder of the Red Wings season after playing through a knee injury at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. While he returned and won the Stanley Cup, other teams might not have been so fortunate with such a devastating injury to a key player and team captain.

He also, however, remembered Tomas Holmstrom missing this year’s Olympics but was able to rest and did not miss a regular-season game.

Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF, doesn’t see the injuries as an issue either.

“Losing Yzerman to your team, this is life and it’s how it is,” Fasel said. “Injuries happen.”

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner agreed the players want to be in Sochi for 2014, despite any inferences from the league that they won’t be there.

Fasel, in a post-panel scrum, tossed it up to a breakdown in communication between him and Gary Bettman.

“I was never invited to speak with the Board of Governors so I can understand the issues,” Fasel said. “The logistics are easy to solve. We organize 32 tournaments every year …

“It’s not a control thing. It’s a partnership.”

Sounds like the NHL and the IIHF are in need of a marriage counsellor more than anything.

“It is like a marriage,” Fasel agreed. “We have been married for 16 years. Like in a marriage, we both have to bring something to the table that works.”

Fasel said he and Bettman will get together for dinner at the end of September. The wives will be there. It will be a happy time, we’re sure.

Maybe somebody should bring somebody roses?

Moving on … my Olympic dream, part II

Every once in a while, I’ll Google my own name.

Until I blasted my name all over social media networks, my results were populated by bylines from the Calgary Sun.

But as my former newspaper started to archive stories off the web, my results list started to dwindle, my bylines were disappearing.

I started to feel forgotten, a lingering effect of the pain I felt … nay, feel … over that day almost four years ago when I was told my services were no longer required.

I was a number. A negative effect to the bottom line for Quebecor Media. My $38,000 per year was hurting the company and I became one of 120 cross-country victims to the streamlining.

So many people have asked me if I miss it.

“Some days, with every breath I take,” I respond.

Slightly more than two weeks ago, I wrote My Olympic Dream, bemoaning my absence from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a sports writer.

I should have been there. I’ll always believe I could have been there, had it not been for a suffering journalism industry.

Tonight, I was looking for files to support work I’d done on a recent fundraiser.

I searched my name, remembered the Archives section of Google News results and clicked.

Kaboom … Google has been busy indexing past stories from the Sun. Not just any stories … my stories.

There they were, byline after byline after byline … words composed by me.

Instead of heaving the same sigh as I breathed while writing through streams of tears two weeks ago, I smiled, excited to remember the interviews with athletes who now are Olympic gold-, silver- and bronze medallists … John Morris, Kevin Martin, Cheryl Bernard, Joannie Rochette, Shannon Szabados, Clara Hughes …

And the others who are no less accomplished or fascinating … Randy Ferbey, Devan Dubnyk, the WHLers, curlers, baseball and softball players, the Newfoundlanders, the British Columbians …

After downloading those stories and memories tonight, I consider it a career well served, telling the stories of those who committed their lives to feats of athletic prowess, vicariously sharing in their victories and mourning their defeats.

A career on which I now can close the books and focus on activities that make me happy … nights and weekends to pursue my own athletic interests (yay, slopitch!), explore my adopted home of Alberta, breathe fresh mountain air, walk with my dog and enjoy time with great friends.

But if it’s all right with you, I’ll continue to love sports and follow the careers of those athletes … as a fan now.

Sharing them with you here, on Twitter or by clinking glasses at the bar, jumping up to high-five you when the thrill of victory descends upon us.

See you there.

My Olympic dream

We trained alongside Robyn Meagher at the track field.

We knew her dedication and commitment to long-distance running.
It was many years later she realized her dream of running for Canada at the Olympics … was it 1992 in Barcelona?
I never had such fantastic dreams for my athletics. Maybe I’d set the bar as high as playing softball for Kell’s Angels but it never came to fruition.
Instead, I reached for my writing … turned it into a career of writing about sports.
At which point, I took a new perspective on the Olympics, wondering what it would be like to be there.
Wondering what it would be like to file my stories on the fly, be surrounded by the best of my profession and bask in the glory of the Olympic Games.
Never mind Winter or Summer, I just wanted to be there.
I thought I was close.
When I covered the World Figure Skating Championships for the Calgary Sun in 2006, I thought I was never closer.
A colleague with whom I spent a great deal of time that week said he could see me representing the chain at the Olympics.
‘Ya got good stuff, kid,’ he said.
My eyes were as wide and as bright as that day so many years ago when a figure skating coach said to my mother ‘she could be a great ice dancer with those edges.’
A couple of months later, my dream – my entire world – crashed and burned. I got handed my layoff slip, my walking papers, my ‘don’t let the door hit your ass’ pass.
Beijing came and went without a second thought.
Now here I sit, the Vancouver Winter Games are opening … my first Olympics not watching every other second at the office, writing columns for my weekly or tri-weekly or cleaning up someone else’s copy at a daily.
The tears stream down my face through these ceremonies, bursting with pride as a Canadian, because it was a damn emotional opener.
And as I see my friend Tracy post on Twitter that her last life goal is to work an Olympics, I remember it was mine, too.
I’ve never been one to wonder ‘what if,’ because it indicates regret and an inability to learn from one’s mistakes and strengthen one’s resolve.
But there it is …
What if.
And it hurts.
God, how it hurts.