Friday, February 19, 2010
Each evening, although we've been busy at work and are tired by the time we get home, my wife and I have enjoyed snuggling on the couch to watch the Olympics. To keep up with things, I've been checking RealClear Sports, where I found an interesting article this morning about this year's American Men's Hockey Team.
Sports writer Ian Johnson's comparison of this team to the "Miracle on Ice" squad seems a bit of a stretch, but it did draw my attention to an interesting story:
In 1980, U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks overlooked some top-level college talent and built his "Miracle on Ice" hockey team around players who hailed mainly from just two areas--Minnesota and Boston--figuring they'd jell better into a team that could trump talent.The group is also very young, which, aside from perhaps bringing superior stamina to the table, also brings a degree of brashness many veteran players might lack:
Thirty years later, something similar is going on at the Vancouver Olympics. While the U.S. men's hockey team is many giant steps away from a gold medal, it's been built on a similar philosophy. Players have been chosen for their chemistry, with many big names left behind.
As the team prepares for one of the Olympics' high points--the U.S.-Canada match on Sunday--it's already won the two games it had to, beating Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday and stomping Norway 6-1 Thursday. And it's doing so in an entertaining and risk-taking style with a bit of the "truculence" [General Manager Brian] Burke says he wants from his players.Thanks to our culture's saturation with collectivism, we can probably expect lots of babbling about "unselfishness," "sacrifice," and "unity," but don't let that noise get in the way of what sounds like a good show this Sunday. (There are important, objective principles behind achieving success in team endeavors that have nothing to do with the ethics of self-immolation.)
"These big stars on the other teams are going to get their chances, but we're not sitting back and waiting for them," says 23-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson. "We're playing an aggressive, in-your-face style. We are not sitting back."
And don't let it distract you from the soundness of Burke's personnel decisions, either. As I see it, he has deftly avoided two huge problems endemic to building a tournament team -- fragile egos and unfamiliarity:
For 22-year-old Bobby Ryan, a former overall No. 2 draft pick, the lack of older players is just fine. "You're not with a lot of veteran guys that you have to tiptoe around," Mr. Ryan said. "You're comfortable with each other. It absolutely helps cohesion."This sounds promising. I think I'll watch the game against Canada Sunday.
Another reason for the togetherness might be Mr. Burke's adherence to his NHL team-building playbook. That means a limited number of elite players--mostly the seven youngsters from the Ann Arbor program--and a bunch of raw-boned role players: grinders, defensive specialists and muckers, in other words, the gritty players who have populated Mr. Burke's teams in Vancouver, Anaheim (where he won a Stanley Cup) and now Toronto. The result is clean lines of responsibility and no sulking stars who are asked to play a defensive role. [bold added]
PS: The movie Miracle, about the 1980 Men's Team, is excellent and I highly recommend it.