Amateurs at the Olympics – Habsolutely

Okay, so I jump in my time machine and go back to the 1960’s. Father David Bauer pushes to build a Canadian National Hockey Team to compete at the Olympics. Now this team was all amateurs – no professional hockey players (those under contract and being paid to play) were allowed to compete. Now, this may be crazy – but I say to make the Olympics for amateurs only. So you think I’m crazy – read on sports fans.

Sochi 2014

Sochi 2014

Way back when, Canada had a huge advantage in any Olympics. The best hockey players in the world were coming out of the amateur ranks of Canadian hockey. Other countries had hockey teams, but they were not even close in talent to the Canadian amateurs. That all changed in the 1960’s when Russia started sending hockey players who were by definition, amateurs. The rest of the world knew better. In reality, these players were full time hockey players being paid not by any team or league, but by the Red Army. Yes, that’s right – what amounted to pro players technically not being paid to play hockey – although that is all they really did. With this unique way of circumventing the rules, the Russians were placing what amounted to professional hockey players on their Olympic teams while all other countries were forced to use amateur players.

The discrepancy was huge with the Soviet team dominating Olympic hockey winning medals in 1956, 1964, 1968. 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988 and 1992. Between these years any wins by other countries (the U.S. won in 1960 and 1980) were dubbed “Miracles on Ice”, because the Soviets were so dominant.

All that changed in 1986 when the Olympic committee allowed professional players to participate starting in the 1988 Olympics. The NHL was reluctant to send NHL players since the Olympics were in the middle of the NHL season – but relented in 1988 allowing NHL players to compete. There was only one reason all this changed. The Russians were dominant because they fielded what were technically amateurs, but in reality professionals who had a HUGE edge over every other country that was sending amateurs – including the Canadians.

My view is that it’s time to change the Olympics back to the original format meant to pit amateur players against amateur players. At this point in time, players in the NHL are from every country in the world and being paid as professionals. As well, players who don’t make it to the NHL are squeezed into the KHL or Elite leagues, so in reality, there is no hiding out for professional players. If the players are any good, they are playing in a pro league. All others are basically amateurs.

What is the point of all this? The benefits to the NHL would be as follows:

1)     The NHL schedule would not have to be squeezed into fewer weeks to allow for the Olympic break resulting in better games, less injuries and a more realistic representation of the strength of each Olympic team.

2)     There would be no risk of star players being injured at the tournament. Injuries to star players could have a costly and disastrous effect on any pro team – not to mention revenue if they missed the playoffs.

3)     The process of selection would be eliminated. Right now there is a huge controversy every time the Canadian team is chosen. Whoever is left off feels slighted and fans never believe the best players were chosen.

4)     The break for players could be good – but being off for close to three weeks for some players means getting back into “game shape” which can take several games.

5)     For the players that go to the Olympics, the grind of the games, the time change and winning or losing can affect their game, once again being a detriment to their NHL teams.

6)     Teams with momentum heading into Olympic break have now lost it with the break.

A Canadian amateur team being put together to play other amateur teams can compete with any team in the world – including the Russians (who won’t be able to send stealth teams under the guise of the military). All in all, a change back to amateurs would be better for the world, for the NHL and for fans.

It’s time to make the change back.

By Paul Lemire @videosigninc

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