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Swiss Gameday: So many reasons to love Mark Streit

Switzerland (8) v. Belarus (9): 3 p.m. EST | USA/RDS/SNET
Canada (6) v. Germany (11): 8 p.m. EST | CNBC/CTV/RDS
Czech Rep (5). v. Latvia (12): 10 p.m. EST | CNBC/TSN/RDS
Slovakia (7) v. Norway (10): midnight EST | CNBC/CTV/RDS

Here's Scott Gordon on Mark Streit, whose signing I'd wager makes Garth Snow occasionally kick back, put his feet on his desk, don nifty sunglasses on his head and say, "Yep, that's right. I signed Mark %ing Streit":

"One thing with Mark is some of the little things he does go unnoticed. His puck patience is extremely impressive. He has a high threshold of patience with the puck when he is under pressure. You take it for granted because he has the ability to protect, shield and get himself into positions where the opponent has to take a penalty to create a turnover. They’re subtle moves he makes but the opponent can’t get the puck. People also do not realize how strong he really is. He took two big hits from Ryan Getzlaf and then was run over by a Canadian d-man. On Getzlaf’s second hit, they both fell to the ice because Mark braced himself and turned the play from being finished to finishing Getzlaf." 

Those subtle moves ... to watch Streit as Switzerland's rock is to appreciate the many subtle ways a defenseman can influence a game, and the many ways in which Streit has honed his. Averaging 25 minutes per game during group play, Streit is the steady hand on the backline, the patient puck-mover, and a physical force in both ends. He's also a universally respected, well-regarded good guy -- which makes him so easy to like.

Today's play-in between Switzerland and Belarus, the 8th and 9th seeds, should be close. But whenever Streit's opponent doesn't have a stable of NHL stars who can take over the non-Streit periods of the game, I trust our #2 (and Swiss #7) to join forces with Jonas Hiller to win in the name of neutrality and no-questions-asked banking shelters.

I'm biased by Islanders-tinted glasses, but I believe Streit, at age 32, has so much to offer the Isles for the final three-plus years of his contract and possibly beyond. Yet while wise defensemen can perform effectively well through their late 30s, I also know this could be the last Olympics where Streit is at his peak in a sport that increasingly rewards the younger and the faster. And part of Streit's defensive strength right now is certainly fueled by his mobility.

So I think about the way Streit speaks about his Swiss mates -- and how he keeps carrying the torch for their growing international team year after year -- and I think it is the picture of hockey in its most beautiful form: Streit and his teammates have no reason to expect gold, and would need everything to work out just to medal, but with their progress over the last decade you know it's going to happen some tournament, some year, maybe some decade. And there's no way the program is going to get there unless they believe and find inspiration in singular players like Streit.

Barring a change of plans, this is Canadian-born coach Ralph Krueger's final year at the helm. But his 13 years have yielded steady progress for Swiss ice hockey. Krueger's successor will try to continue the upward progress, and more players like Streit may emerge to join what is already a young team, for a country that is slowly producing more talent.

Until then, I see Streit give his all to push Switzerland as far as possible despite long odds and tough competition, and i feel admiration. I think about how he does it year after year, and I'm reminded of the signature passage in Ken Dryden's The Game, first about himself, then recalling a phone call with Dickie Moore, a member of the previous generation of Canadiens stars:

"Ask us after a game. After we've played the Bruins or the Islanders; after a playoff game. If you don't understand the excited tumble of words, look at our gray-white faces, at eyes that glitter and pop at you. Look at our sweaty smiles, at hands that won't shut up. An hour later, a day's tension sucked away, look at our bodies. All gangly and weak, so weak we laugh it feels so good. Look at our faces, at smiles distant and content.


...[Dickie Moore] spoke of 'the game.' Not a game of his time, or mine, something he knew we shared. It sounded almost spell-like the way he put it. I had always thought of it as a phrase interchangeable with 'hockey,' 'baseball,' any sport. But when Moore said it, I knew it wasn't. 'The game' was different, something that belongs only to those who play it, a code phrase that anyone who has played a sport, any sport, understands. It's a common heritage of parents and backyards, teammates, friends, winning, losing, dressing rooms, road trips, coaches, press, fans, money, celebrity -- a life, so long as you live it. Now as I sit here, slouched back, mellow, when I hear others talk of 'the game,' I know what Moore meant. It is hockey that I'm leaving behind. It's 'the game' I'll miss."

[p. 269-270, 2005 20th anniversary edition]

After the Olympics, there will be another shot at the World Championship in Germany this spring. if Streit's team gets past Belarus today, a Wednesday Olympic quarterfinal against the U.S. looms -- an unfortunate allegiance-twisting draw for American Islanders fans. The U.S. fan in me says that would be a fine time for Streit to lose, come home and get some much-needed rest before the NHL season resumes.

But as a hockey fan and a Streit admirer, if his team pulls off the upset and builds a dream Olympic experience, you bet I won't begrudge it. How could I be sorry about Streit extending another priceless moment in The Game?

A little Islanders content should be up later, but consider this the gameday thread for all of today's qualifiers.