Cory’s ColumnUSA Hockey Hoping to Avoid Repeat in Salt Lake

We stand less than one full year away from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Every year as this storied competition comes around, we in the media tend to turn our heads to the last games for possible themes or stories that could excite sports fans, especially when the games will be returning to the United States next year.

Unfortunately, this look back will be accompanied with a grimace and turned head from most American hockey fans. For those of you who do not remember, the USA squad drew quite a bit of attention for everything except their play on the ice in Nagano three years ago.

After a disappointing defeat, not advancing to any of the medal competitions, frustrated American players returned to their dorms and proceeded to completely trash them.

I’m not sure who was playing Pete Townsend or Keith Moon, but The Who definitely would have been proud of this hotel room destruction.

This action proved what the whole world thinks of us, but, even worse, the players’ actions afterwards go against everything we believe in ourselves as a country.

Sure, people around the world will look at this occurrence and say that Americans are sore losers, cry babies, or anything else they want to say that makes them feel better about being weaker than us. That much I can deal with.

What I can’t deal with is the fact that not one player emerged afterward to take the blame or apologize for their actions. Everyone knows that the damage was done by only a few players, and that the team as a whole are calm family men who would never take part in such an event.

In this instance, those players at fault have not lived up to the honor and courage that we pride ourselves on time after time in this nation. The actual vandals have left doubts in our mind, and, until they do take blame and apologize, we as sports fans will be forced to put that entire 1998 team, and most of this year’s squad, in the same bag, knowing that many do not deserve such infamy.

In fact, according to Tony Frei of ESPN, nine of the first ten selections for next year’s squad were on that team from three years ago. This being the case, the team will once again have to deal with the badgering questions of the incident that no one and everyone apparently committed at the same time.

One cannot fault the players at this stage, however, at least not all of them. The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) has encouraged all of the players to neither confess nor tell of anyone else’s activity. This opinion is no doubt echoed by the players’ agents and managers.

Furthermore, it is already decided that the members of the team that did in fact cause the damage will not come forward. Since the team thus far has nearly the same roster as three years ago, a player coming out now and telling of another’s involvement will seem as if he’s turning his back on a friend, a team, and a country.

Yes, Team USA’s spot is pretty tough right now, but they have no one to blame but themselves. The fact that they brought shame and dishonor to a country that holds those ideals so dearly in the international spotlight tends not to allow me to stay up at night worrying about their fate next winter.

They must know that, aside from simply doing the right thing, such bad press will badly effect the squad’s play on the ice. Having to attend press conferences filled with questions about lamps rather than lamplighters and walls rather than wings will no doubt attract attention, both of the players and the fans, away from what happens in the rink.

So what now? What if the squad, while not the miracle of the 1980 squad, pulls off the upset and wins the gold? Will we be quick as a country to embrace a group of players that allowed the world to look down upon us just three short years ago?

Truthfully, I would be much more excited about the team if they bowed out in the first round, finally putting closure to this event, than to see them dance on the middle of the ice after avoiding their responsibility and duty to the American people and teammates for the second straight Olympics. Make us proud, guys…