1. A look at what they’ve got
With all those mid-summer youth tournaments now concluded, Calgary got a good ol’ fashioned eyeful of five of their most prized prospects, all of whom appeared for either Canada or the US at the World Junior Evaluation Camps in Lake Placid last week. The results were, shall we say, mixed.
John Weisbrod can talk all he wants about how pleased he was with everyone’s performance, but the fact of the matter is that most players (with one very notable and totally predictable exception) were simply solid. Now granted, being even solid out there against three of the other best World Junior teams in the world is a pretty good thing to be, with Sean Monahan garnering the most attention for reasons that should be obvious.
Emile Poirier was, from what I read about every game of the camp, very well respected and thus a pleasant surprise as a No. 22 overall. This is also true of Patrick Seiloff, who seemed to do more to round out his game since the last time he played for the US. Jon Gillies didn’t get much of a run-out (because he’s the US’s 1 trillion percent starter unless his head falls off during the college season, and even then he’s got a shot to make the squad), but was ultra-impressive in defeating Canada on the final day of camp.
Mark Jankowski, the surprise invite whose uncle just happened to be putting together the team and added him at the last minute? Well, he got mixed reviews. Here’s Weisbrod, who didn’t make the trip but is a totally unbiased and trustworthy in these matters: "He was the guy that caught most of the people by surprise. A lot of people gave me really strong feedback about how skilled he was and his reach and his size and how good everyone thought he was going to be. I was really happy about that. I was getting constant updates during the Canada/U.S. game."
Corey Pronman, whose observations from the tournament we’ll publish later today, notes that Jankowski flashed some skill but was mostly behind the pace.
Well, like Weisbrod I wasn’t there, and I know a lot of doubt has been cast on Pronman in some quarters because he isn’t high on every single Calgary prospect (although he’s likes Janko more than Kent does), so I guess I’ll add: That’s the Mark Jankowski I know.
2. And now for something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while
I haven’t really gotten into arguing about the whole "Sochi Olympics vis a vis Russia’s anti-gay laws" situation because… well, because of a lot of things.
First I think pitching a fit that the NHL or the USA or Canada or anyone else is still going to go (because of course they are) isn’t very productive. After all the work all these athletes and those in their organizations have done for four years, of course they’re going to go. If the far graver human rights violations in China didn’t deter anyone from going to Beijing, gay people and their supporters being thrown in prison by a disgusting iron-fisted government isn’t going to do it either. It’s howling in the wilderness.
Second is that I’ve heard a lot of semi-convincing arguments, most notably from You Can Play, about how people should go BECAUSE they want to support gay athletes and citizens and all that, and I’m not sure I totally buy it, but it’s, well, something.
Third is that even if there was a mass boycott, do you think Putin would give a rat’s ass? He’d just compete himself and win a couple medals and feel great and never once think to himself that anything he did was wrong. That’s not how he operates. He’s Vladimir friggin’ Putin.
So all those things have prevented me from talking about it in long-form like this, until today, because this happened…
3. Henrik Lundqvist goes out like a punk
I had been wondering how the NHL and its players, with their fairly vocal support of You Can Play, would treat this issue as the Olympics approached, and now we have our first answer.
Henrik Lundqvist, beloved and handsome goaltender for the New York Rangers, will obviously be the starter for the stacked Sweden team that looks a favorite to medal. And he and the rest of the Swedish team had their first press availability about the run-up to the Olympics, and all ably dodged the questions about it citing that the Olympics are above any country’s laws or whatever.
Here’s the actual quote from Lundqvist, who has recorded a PSA for You Can Play and has talked extensively about his support for gays in general: "As an individual, I have opinions about a lot of things, but when it comes to the Olympics, it is important that we focus on the sport and have it as a platform. I have no problem with talking about some of the views in other contexts, but when it comes to the Olympics, I think you should just focus on the sport."
That’s the kind of sickening crap I expected. Vocal supporters of gay rights suddenly clam up because Sport Is Sport and Personal Politics Has No Place At The Olympics. It’s sellout garbage. That’s exactly what it is. Lundqvist can’t believe that deeply about this clear and inarguable human rights issue, which has been talked about on the national stage for weeks now, if his answer is "Well, hockey’s more important." It isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. And you don’t get to call yourself an ally if this is how you think in your daily life.
4. What can be done?
The problem with making a big stand in Russia, if that’s what you’d like to see happen, is that these guys can do it but will probably go to jail afterward. As far as I know, this Swedish hockey press conference was not held in Chelyabinsk. You’re not going to be arrested for saying that the laws are horrific and should be to any right-thinking person living in 2013.
This was the across-the-board line of talk from the Swedish team, apparently, so I get the not-talking on that level but the fact of the matter is that when you’re as vocal as Lundqvist has been, turtling when given the opportunity to speak on the subject — you know, because a journalist asked you a direct question about it; it’s not like he would have been going off all by himself — comes off as pathetic and worthy of scorn.
The only thing that can be done about it is for guys like Lundqvist, who have cachet internationally and who have supported the issue in the past, to get vocal about this. It won’t do anything in Russia, but it will bring more people’s attention to the issue, and that would be good because god damn is it a terribly important issue. Hiding behind "Well let’s just let this be a sports event," is for cowards. Standing up for his convictions, which Lundqvist apparently holds pretty deeply, is what grownups do.
No one ever made a change by accepting things as they are, right? So why not try? Oh right, because your team didn’t want you to talk about it. Real courageous stuff, Hank. Get a clue.
5. On a lighter note
The Flames are apparently looking for a new goal song. This should be your winner: