DAVOS - Canadian head coach Doug Shedden was thrilled to be given the task of coaching Canada's team at this year's Spengler Cup. He would have been thrilled, I'm sure, to have coached the team under the normal circumstances that would have seen him utilising a roster of mostly Swiss League-based players.
But the assignment got a lot sweeter, and much more high profile, when it became clear that some big names would be playing for Canada as a result of the NHL lockout.
But that immediately put Shedden into a situation that many a Canadian coach is familiar with. It's the sharp part of the blade on the double-edged sword that coaching almost any Canadian team in an international hockey tournament is: Even if you win, it's often not enough. The severity of the sharpness of the blade differs slightly from tournament to tournament - but, in the end, Canadians expect their hockey teams to win.
To put it in even simpler terms: If Canada wins at this tournament, the attitude from Joe Average hockey fan towards Shedden's work would pretty much be "Well, with that roster, of course he won." Hardly the credit he would deserve. If Canada doesn't win, opinions would generally run along the "What a horrible job. He couldn't win with that team." Which, again, would hardly be fair.
The part of that double blade that cuts in our favour is that Canada's attitude towards hockey - most Canadians think we're the best and expect nothing less of our teams than a win – contributes to making us good.
My disconnect with the whole thing is that, sometimes, people get a little myopic in their vision of the great game on a world level. Canada is good. Canada usually has a chance to win a championship in any tournament it enters. But that doesn't preclude other teams/countries from being better than Canada sometimes. And it doesn't mean that Canada played badly or failed.
It means that the other team was better. No shame in that. Take this Spengler Cup tournament. Going by Twitter traffic after Canada's opening overtime loss (I'm writing this prior to the game v Davos), the feeling I got from many was that Canada could pretty much just show up and win this tournament because, you know, it's Canada - and that the performance of the team in the first game was terrible.
I said to a colleague, and I'll say it here, if you're one of those people, you're fooling yourself. You have two teams (Mannheim and Fribourg) that are leading their respective leagues. You have another team from the KHL (Ufa) that is a middle of the pack team in the second-best league in the world and you also have a host club (Davos) bolstered by several excellent NHL lockout players. All of those teams are, quite literally, are in mid-season form. This tournament was never going to be easy for any team to win – whether that team is called Canada or not.
To bring it back to Shedden and his assistant Chris McSorley – McSorley agreed that they were indeed in the position of having to win to escape being known as the two guys who couldn't win with all those NHLers. But he was quick to add, with a smile, "Yeah, but there are about a thousand other coaches who'd love to be in the situation we're in."
How positive. How Canadian. It's that attitude that makes me miss home.