CBS' Davidson slips on Canadian ice

PHIL JACKMAN

February 24, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Generally speaking, John Davidson did a fine job working with play-by-play man Mike Emrick covering the Winter Olympics hockey tournament for CBS. Of course, TNT cable did a much better job than the big boys but that's another story.

Unfortunately, Davidson happened upon the inevitable banana peel during the call of the gold-medal game between Canada and the Unified Team yesterday as he let his bias toward his home country shine through like a beacon in Canada's 3-1 loss.

His pronouncements toward the UT -- "You can call us Russians," said winning coach Viktor Tikonov -- were overly judgmental, his cheerleading misplaced and, when he closed the broadcast with the statement, "We tend to forget they [the Russians] have emotions, too," well....

Actually, the problem of the 10-year NHL goalie, and his TNT counterpart, former winger Bill Clement, also a Canadian, is that: their nationality.

See, the chaps from up north invented hockey and it's stenciled on every Canadian's mind at birth that they have always and will always play the game at its absolute zenith. Fact is, this is a horrendous contention.

At one time, here's what the amateur hockey world thought of the team with the big maple leaf on its sweaters: "It's easier to send a man to the moon than beat Canada in hockey," said Anatoly Tarasov, then coach of the Soviet Union team.

That was 32 years ago in Squaw Valley, Calif., and the Canadians were about to be beaten again (by the United States) after finishing third behind the USSR and U.S. in 1956. OK, not only is it 40 years since Canada won a gold, yesterday's was only the second silver medal it has picked up in all that time.

Maybe the so-called North American game isn't all it's cracked up to be on this side of the pond.

It's no big secret the style of game they play north of the border and the game we have a tendency to copy here in America contains excessive contact, mean and dangerous fouls, sticks carried eye-high and mediocre individual skills save for a solid right cross.

Both the United States and Canada were extremely fortunate this time around that nearly all the other 10 teams in the tournament stooped to trying to incorporate the overly physical "make-'em-pay" game into their favored finesse, classy skating and passing game.

There were two reasons for this: Just about every team was loaded with players indoctrinated in the clutch-and-grab game, and said players were looking to assure NHL talent scouts that they can indeed play the wrestlemania professional game we feature here.

About midway through the third period and after the winners had taken a 2-0 lead on the way to a 3-1 victory, a network statistician came up with a telling disclosure. To that point, Tikonov's so-called robots had completed 124 passes to Canada's 52. That's not only keeping possession of the puck, it's setting up plays.

The stat brought to mind the statement Czechoslovakia's goalie Petr Briza made the day before after the Czechs had smacked Team USA, 6-1, for the bronze medal: "They [U.S.] don't play hockey. They just hurry around." Hey-hey.

All things considered, it was a good showing for Team USA, a fourth-place finish (three spots up from its seed) and a 5-2-1 record. Any success was directly attributable to one man and it wasn't that big, grumpy misfit Dave Peterson, despite what Clement and his broadcasting buddy Jiggs McDonald tried to tell us for two weeks.

If Ray LeBlanc hadn't been rescued from Indianapolis of the IHL in November and inserted in goal, the red light behind the U.S. goal probably would have burned out in a half-dozen games. Poor LeBlanc looked at 300 hard rubber discs flying at his noggin over seven-plus games and only 18 found net. Amazing!

Four years ago, USA Hockey and Peterson gathered up several free-wheeling offensive players and let them go, figuring goals would make up for any deficiencies on defense. Wrong.

This time, with less offensive thrust, Peterson supposedly worked to construct a solid defense and we and LeBlanc saw the fruits of his labors. That was on the ice. Off the ice, we were our typically spoiled-brat selves.

Sportsmanship has no place in Peterson's way of doing things. He complained about the opposition, the officials, the tourney organizers and just about everything else in Europe and, finally, his whining rubbed off on his players. Imagine team captain Scott Donatelli, a 26-year-old who should know better, complaining about a Swedish referee "taking the game away from us" after the gold-medal winners sent 55 shots LeBlanc's way during a 5-2 loss.

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