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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

NHL could benefit from these Olympics and be truly global

Canada's Sidney Crosby (87) holds his gold medal

Canada's Sidney Crosby (87) holds his gold medal at the men's ice hockey medal ceremony at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

An incredible hockey game capped an incredible Olympic run by both the United States and Canada. It was a game that took center stage in the hockey world and will leave us all feeling a little let down by the NHL games that resume Monday night.

Canada's 3-2 overtime win gave the host country its Vancouver Games-leading 14th gold. The Americans' very unexpected silver has set an international standard that will have the United States fighting with Canada and Russia for world hockey supremacy for the next few years.

This was just about perfect for the sport: a rabid crowd, two friendly rivals, many of the best players in the sport, a dramatic finish and one of the best players in the game scoring the winner. Sidney Crosby didn't have a great Olympics, but he did rise to the occasion in a big way.

The NHL can benefit from this, and not just by saying yes to the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation and agreeing to go to Sochi in 2014.

January and February NHL hockey can be the dog days, as good teams start to conserve energy for a stretch run.

Why not dump the All-Star Game, a sure money-loser, and stage a two-week World Cup every year, or every two years? Use that precious escrow money the owners pull back from the players every year and create an international event to try to draw some interest.

That's what they do in soccer. And before you tell me how well soccer goes over in this country, let's all be reminded that hockey is not baseball, which draws from a specific pool of nations for its athletes. Hockey is very much not basketball or football.

The NHL is truly an international game now, unlike in 1980, when the Soviets were the unknowns, the enemy. Everyone wants to play in the NHL, and everyone can; many of these elite players also want to represent their country when they can, especially given that they spend eight months or more away from home.

If it weren't for these Olympics, the average East Coast NHL fan might not know who Ryan Kesler is. The fans out West wouldn't know that Zach Parise is the most dynamic American player around, or that Ryan Miller is the best goaltender in the world right now.

The worst move would be for the owners to take this hockey goodwill and crush it in the name of a few bucks they think they're saving by not stopping the season every four years, or every two years. It's wrong to characterize this as a Russians-vs.-the-world issue, with Alex Ovechkin and his countrymen's subtle threats to play overseas in 2013-14 in anticipation of the Olympics if the NHL doesn't go.

This is the NHL's time to be truly global, to embrace its position as a sport that is what it is in this country but is something so much more elsewhere.

We've now seen what hockey can be when the best players get together. If the NHL takes its best players and makes them stay in Columbus and San Jose and Newark, then last night's game will be another miracle.

Because we won't see it again.


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