John Steigerwald's Sports Column
Olympic hockey looked too much like NHL
So much for the big ice.
I don’t know about you, but I was looking forward to a lot of high-flying, end-to-end, fire-wagon hockey in Sochi. What else should we expect when the greatest goalscorers on the planet gather for a tournament, especially when they get to play on that larger international rink that allows all that extra room?
What we got looked like the New Jersey Devils playing against the New Jersey Devils. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin and Patrick Kane combined for one goal in a week and a half. Maybe it was too many players trying to play North American, cycle-the-puck, muck-in-the-corners hockey in wide-open spaces. Whatever the reason, the results in Sochi should put a stop to any more talk about how the NHL would be so much better if the rinks were expanded to Olympic proportions.
The Canadians were probably getting a lot of criticism at home for winning ugly, but maybe the guys who invented the sport had the right idea. They gave up three goals in five games.
That’s pretty good coaching, eh?
• As of this writing, NBC and the NHL need some drama. Prior to the final four, the most exciting moments came from a United States vs. Russia shootout that couldn’t happen in the NHL, and from the United States and Canadian women.
Nothing from this time in Sochi makes a good argument for the NHL going back to the Olympics in 2018. I think I would have enjoyed watching no-names make names for themselves more than watching big names scoring no goals.
• I loved the shootout that made T.J. Oshie a household word and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should have already called the players union and arranged to have that system in the NHL by Tuesday.
• I know I’m in a small minority on this one, but I would be okay with the NHL going to the Olympic-style shootout in the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Finals. I can’t imagine a more dramatic scenario in sports than a Stanley Cup riding on one shooter-goalie confrontation. Please don’t make the usual home-run derby or field-goal-kicking contest analogies. Shooter against goalie is the essence of hockey.
Do you think the United State’s win over Russia would have created half the excitement and received one-tenth of the attention if, instead of the marathon shootout, the game would have ended on a deflection two minutes into overtime? That was a relatively meaningless win but hockey fans, and maybe a few nonfans, will remember it forever.
• Las Vegas has set the over/under for Pirates wins in 2014 at 84. I’d bet the under.
• If it’s true the police have a video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his girlfriend, he should be released and nobody should sign him for at least a year. There was a lot of talk about tolerance in NFL locker rooms lately. If the NFL is serious about changing conduct, players need to be shown that beating up women gets you banished, if not banned. Men hitting women won’t be, you know, tolerated.
• The convergence of two problems might force the NCAA and the NFL to accommodate football players who don’t want to be college students anymore.
There are a record number of underclassmen taking part in the NFL scouting combine this week.
“When you have more than 100 juniors come out, there’s going to be a lot of heartbreak at the end of this pot of gold that players are expecting to receive,” former NFL personnel executive Phil Savage said.
About one-third of the 1,071 underclassmen who came out early since juniors became eligible in 1990 were never drafted. There’s no doubt the increase in the number of underclassmen leaving early is a problem for the NFL and for more and more young football players.
You can count on hearing lots of possible solutions. The one you probably won’t hear is the easiest and in the best interest of the student-athletes.
Treat football players like hockey players. Let them be drafted and retain their eligibility. Plenty of Penguins draftees are playing college hockey right now. Football players lose their eligibility simply by declaring themselves available for the draft.
Why not allow a kid to go to the combine to show the NFL scouts what he can do and, if he doesn’t get drafted, allow him to go back to school? Maybe not getting drafted would serve as a much needed wake-up call and make him take being a college student a little more seriously.
Does that seem a like a radical solution?
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the NCAA to allow it. The geniuses at the home office are too busy adjudicating cases like the shocking excessive pasta scandal at the University of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma self-reported to the NCAA that, “Three current student athletes received food in excess of NCAA regulation at a graduation banquet. The three had graduated from the school but returned for an additional season of competition. The players were provided pasta in excess of the permissible amount allowed.”
The players were required to donate $3.83 each to the charity of their choice in order to be reinstated.
Somebody took the time to determine that the amount of illegal pasta would have cost $3.83 on the open market.
But, don’t let anybody tell you that you shouldn’t take the NCAA seriously.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.