The selection of the U.S. Olympic team was going to be debated no matter what. The country’s talent level has increased so much that star players were sure to be excluded. Dismay from some corners was inevitable.
Still, there was no reason for the whole thing to turn into an avalanche of apologies. Saying sorry simply wasn’t necessary.
USA Hockey granted unprecedented access to two accomplished, respected reporters as it filled out the team. Scott Burnside of ESPN and Kevin Allen of USA Today took notes and quotes as the brain trust debated and ranked the best Americans at every position. When USA Hockey named the squad Wednesday, the stories about its selection process came out.
Burnside wrote nearly 13,000 words. His fascinating, detailed opus takes up 35 pages as a Word document. Yet all some people saw was one paragraph.
“He is not intense,” Brian Burke, the director of player personnel, said of Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan. “That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.”
Even though Burke ultimately voted for Ryan’s inclusion, the high-scoring forward was left off the team. To Ryan, the evaluation was worse than the exclusion.
“They could have just cut me,” he said. “You almost feel degraded.”
The apologies soon started. Burke, who was Ryan’s general manager in Anaheim, called the winger. Ryan didn’t answer, so U.S. General Manager David Poile stepped to the microphones to apologize publicly.
“As far as denigrating any player, none of us signed up for that,” Poile said. “I totally apologize to Bobby Ryan and on behalf of Brian Burke, who was absolutely his biggest supporter on our staff.”
It’s understandable for Ryan to feel hurt. He consistently tops 30 goals per season and has represented the United States in the 2010 Olympics and multiple world championships. To hear those words about your ability would sting anyone.
Still, the job of the selection committee is to bring home a medal, not boost players’ egos. Hockey conversations can be frank, and Burke is as outspoken as they come. He used to watch Ryan on a daily basis. It would be a disservice to American hockey fans if Burke held back on his opinions and (in a nod to Sabres lore) failed to conduct the most thorough top-to-bottom evaluation ever done.
In order to evaluate, honesty is necessary. Players know that. A national magazine used to enlist me to conduct polls about the NHL, and the comments in the Sabres’ dressing room about players picked for the “Worst” categories were often similar to Burke’s words.
The trouble here is the comments got out.
“I’m not disputing what was said,” Poile said. “The problem and the communication breakdown that we had was we thought this was similar to the HBO ‘24/7’ situation where we had editorial review on what was going to be said. It caught all of us off-guard. That’s on us.”
Burnside, meanwhile, has been in the crosshairs of some. He’s stayed out of the fray, but there’s absolutely no reason for him to apologize. USA Hockey gave him unfiltered access, and he delivered an amazing tale on what it takes to make and create a team.
Readers can be certain Burnside weighed the impact of using Burke’s comments. It’s similar to a situation I had with Gary Roberts, personal trainer of the Sabres’ Cody Hodgson. Roberts delivered an impassioned defense of Hodgson after the center’s former general manager in Vancouver ripped him. During the talk, Roberts said he’d like to tell Canucks GM Mike Gillis he’s a moron even though it would be of no use.
I knew that statement would overshadow the rest of the story. After discussing it with copy editor Greg Connors, we decided the comment was newsworthy. It was used but not sensationalized as the focal point, which is the same strategy Burnside took. Burke’s summary comes past the halfway point of Burnside’s story.
Despite all the apologies, the only thing anyone should be sorry about is this behind-the-scenes look won’t happen again.
“What goes on in the room should stay in the room,” Poile said.
Unfiltered access is gone, and the controversy will prevent fans from knowing the whole, compelling story in the future.
Conacher steps up
Cory Conacher is finally doing his part to make last season’s trade a little less lopsided.
Conacher entered Saturday night’s game against Montreal on his best run as a member of the Senators. He had a goal and five points in three games, made possible in part because of the absence of captain Jason Spezza. Conacher excelled alongside Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejed.
Still, the trade is a blowout. Conacher had just four goals and 14 points in the Senators’ opening 41 games. His acquisition counterpart, goaltender Ben Bishop, was 22-5-3 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .936 save percentage for Tampa Bay.
On the bright side, Conacher can now say he’s a Canisius College graduate.
“I finished my last online course,” he said. “It’s all my parents and grandparents wanted for Christmas, so it was nice I was able to do it just before.”
On the fly
• Minnesota’s win over the Sabres on Thursday saved coach Mike Yeo’s job, at least temporarily. “I know it’s there,” Yeo told his players of his shaky status. “I know what they’re writing. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. What I want is for you guys to know I still believe in this group and you’re going to see that I’m still going to come in here and I’m going to coach not to try to save my job. I’m going to coach to try to give us a chance to get things going, get back on track and get back in the playoff race and keep building toward our ultimate goal.”
• After starting 1-7, the Flyers have gone 19-10-4 to climb into a playoff spot. Goalie Steve Mason has been beaten in regulation just three times since Nov. 5 while going 14-3-4.
• Coyotes captain Shane Doan was set to return Saturday night after missing a month with Rocky Mountain spotted fever. “I don’t have to worry about that again,” he said. “I don’t know how else to explain it other than I hurt. You get hot and cold. You get frail.”
• The Maple Leafs’ acquisition of Tim Gleason made him teammates with Nikolai Kulemin. Gleason broke the Russian’s nose in a one-punch knockout once. “I said, ‘No hard feelings,’ ” Gleason said. “I’m not sure if he understood me. I think he did.”