Take it from Bob Clarke

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- There aren't many people in the world who are more passionate about Canadian hockey than Bob Clarke.

You may love him. You may despise him. But you have to concede that should Team Canada ever need help of any kind, Clarke would not have to be asked twice.

So when Canada did not win a medal at the recent Olympics, it did not sit well with Clarke.

But he doesn't blame those who played and he doesn't blame the organizers.

He thinks that the National Hockey League's rule-makers played a major role in orchestrating Canada's demise, a point he made to the assistant coach of Team Canada, Ken Hitchcock, who also coaches Clarke's Philadelphia Flyers.

"I talked to Hitch a lot of times before they left," Clarke said. "My feeling was that changing the rules (was a concern). The thing that Canadians always had, in every tournament they went to, was that feeling that they could attack. If you got behind, you could always attack. They always used that.

"It didn't mean you always won, but Canadians always had that special thing. I think that the rules the NHL put in this year took that away from the Canadians. I think that's part of Canadian hockey."

In Clarke's ideal game, physical play is a much greater factor than it is in the new NHL. The days of inflicting a bone-breaking slash across the ankle disappeared some years ago, but now even the crunching hitting has been reduced. The heaviest hits usually were inflicted after the victim had been slowed through restraint. Now, the restraint is gone.

In Clarke's view, Canadians traditionally built emotion through physical play. But in Italy, they couldn't.

"You're afraid to use that emotion to go after teams," he said. "I think the Europeans had a tremendous amount of respect for that part of the Canadian game -- and some fear. Now you go over and everybody is the same. There is no difference.

"In fact, if you watched the (Olympic) hockey, the women's hockey actually allowed more stick checking than the men's. It did! I'm serious.

"The incidental stuff got called in the men's and it didn't get called in the women's."

Clarke was the prime mover behind Team Canada 1998, the one that, as the saying goes, "won the hockey and lost the sideshow."

That was a good team, the best that Canada had iced to that point. But Clarke feels that it would have no more success today than the team that was sent to Italy.

"Canadians now have to make some real adjustments if we go to the Olympics," he said. "Look at what the Finns do. Five-man units. Check like SOBs. Good goaltending. Don't give anything up. Nothing physical.

"The Swedes did exactly the same thing, except the Swedes have more talent than the Finns, that's all. It's the same hockey. You can't play what we considered Canadian hockey in these tournaments anymore. I think it has been taken out of the game."

When Clarke's 1998 team lost, he resigned. That's the code, he said at the time. You lose; you quit.

So does he feel that Wayne Gretzky, the executive director of Team Canada 2002, should quit?

"No," Clarke said with a laugh. "He's Gretzky.

"Gretzky is a long way above the rest of us. I think Gretzky should have another kick at the can because I think he got blind-sided.

"They've got five guys skating backward through the mid-zone. It's the exact opposite of what Canadian hockey has always been. But that's what won.

"If you want to be stubborn and keep trying to play the old way, we'll never win. Now we've got to make this adjustment."


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