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About that hockey team

Like a lot of Canadians I went through a lot of emotions after watching Canada get bumped out of the Olympic tournament by Russia, Finland and Switzerland (previously known more for its cheese and chocolate than its prowess on the ice).

Like a lot of Canadians I went through a lot of emotions after watching Canada get bumped out of the Olympic tournament by Russia, Finland and Switzerland (previously known more for its cheese and chocolate than its prowess on the ice). Rage, sorrow, ennui, more rage, more sorrow, dejection, and finally a state of universal numbness that I fully expect to last for weeks.

I’ve thought about that loss a lot, wondering how a roster of the best hockey players in the top professional league can get beaten so soundly, and this is what I came up with:

• Hockey is a team sport, and the Canadians never had a chance to come together as a team. Unlike Switzerland, where the team was probably picked last year and trained as a team through the summer, the Canadians only had a few practices to get it together. Canada also has a problem with depth – most players on teams like Finland and Russia know a year or so ahead of time whether they’re on the team or not, and they used that time wisely. Canada picked its team in January, with a lot of question marks over certain players. Athletes in all other Olympic sports get four years to train for the Games, while Team Canada gets four practices. However, if we started to pick our team and alternates a lot earlier, say at the end of the previous NHL season, we would have time and resources to train a team specifically for the Games and maybe a few weeks in the summer to practice on an Olympic rink.

• Canada is too easy going. We invented the sport, we supply the bulk of professional players in the league, and yet for some reason we condescend to play by everyone else’s rules. Just once I’d like to see an Olympic hockey tournament played on the ice it was meant to be played on, with the same rules as used by the top professional league in the world. Who is the IIHF anyway, and why should they matter? All the top European players are in the NHL.

For the Canadians, who grew up and turned pro playing in smaller rinks, playing this Euro-style hockey is like putting 100-metre sprinters in a marathon. It’s still running, just as Olympic hockey is still hockey, but there’s a world of difference to the athletes.

• Canada is hampered by our own love of hockey. The team should have been younger and faster with Crosby, Phaneuf, Spezza, Staal, Savard and other players in the lineup, and a much faster defensive core. The problem is that we would consider it a national dishonour not to put future Hall of Famers like Foote and Blake in the lineup, even if they are in the sunset of their careers and have no chance of keeping up to the faster Europeans and Russians. We’re just so grateful for their past services, and in awe of their careers, that we lacked the cold judgment necessary to pick the best players for the job. In this case the job was a massive rink, jet lag, an intense tournament schedule, and refs who were told to call everything.

Where was Philippe Boucher, who is +22 playing D on Dallas? Redden played well, but might have done better with teammate Brian Pothier beside him. There are a lot of young, fast defencemen in the league who would have killed for the chance to match up against a Selanne or Ovechkin in an Olympic game.

In goal, Manny Legace is the best goalie in the NHL right now, but wasn’t even considered for the roster because Canada feels it owes Brodeur for his past performances, and Luongo and Turco for waiting patiently on the bench for so many years. Manny Fernandez is second in stats to Legace right now with a league best .924 save percentage, but he wasn’t chosen either. Admittedly, goaltending wasn’t our problem in the tournament, but our choices do illustrate the point that we don’t necessarily pick the best players, but instead make emotional and political decisions to satisfy our sense of history.

I’m probably talking out of my ass with these observations, but it feels good to get things off my chest. I can feel the numbness lifting already.

The end of the Olympics means a return to the NHL ( ). There are so many powerhouse teams in the league this year, including Vancouver ( ) when they’re playing their best, so it should be an interesting season. Whoever wins, take heart that it will be with Canadians in the lineup.

Billion songs for iTunes

It’s good to be Alex Ostrovsky of West Bloomfield Michigan. Late last Wednesday Olstrovsky downloaded Coldplay’s "Speed of Sound" from the iTunes music store, which turned out to be the one billionth song downloaded since the store opened in April of 2003. Since then the number of song sales has accelerated – one million songs in the first four days, 70 million at the end of one year, half a billion by July 17, 2005 and now one billion less than seven months later. You can also download songs in about 21 countries now, up from one – the U.S. – when the service was launched.

For his musical tastes, Ostrovsky won a 20-inch iMac, 10 60GB iPods (which mean’s it’s also good to be Ostrovsky’s closest friends) and a $10,000 credit at the iTunes store – good for exactly 10,000 songs at current prices. Apple will also establish a scholarship at the Julliard School of Music in New York that carries Ostrovsky’s names. Talk about immortality.

Although there are now about two dozen digital music download sites, iTunes still takes the cake with about 82 per cent of the market.

And while digital music is still only about 5 per cent of the total market, it’s growing all the time and is expected to break 10 per cent within the year.