More people should know Sidney Crosby
"Let's make sure everyone knows whose game they're playing," blasts a prominent TV advert here in Canada as the camera sweeps low over the ice.
The problem is, fewer people than Canadians think know whose game they're playing. Most people don't realise the game exists. Ice hockey, outside a handful of countries, may as well be frisbee golf - of interest to a dedicated community, otherwise irrelevant.
An outstanding example of the stark dichotomy between hockey-loving Canadians and abjectly ignorant foreigners is Sidney Crosby. Crosby is the 22-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL - a league which spans Canada and the United States and is by far the highest-profile competition in world hockey. Crosby is also the talismanic forward on whom hopes of hockey gold for Canada's men rest.
Walk through Vancouver city centre and there are thousands of people wearing Canadian hockey jerseys. On the reverse of those, Crosby's name and number (87, representing his birth year) are almost ubiquitous. If he is not already a national hero in Canada, he will become one should he deliver that gold safely to the nation.
In Britain, Crosby could walk down any street and not get a flicker of recognition. You could ask a hundred people who Sidney Crosby is and I reckon one, maybe two would know. I don't think the rest could even take an educated guess.
Canada's Sidney Crosby skates past a handful of his adoring fans. Photo: AP
As one of relatively few British ice hockey reporters, I probably know more than the average Briton about the game. That's not to say I'm approaching the human hockey encyclopaedias who broadcast for the North American networks, but I know my Guildford Flames from my Calgary Flames, and I know my Alex Ovechkin from my Nicky Chinn.
I also know what kind of ice hockey community exists in Britain, and it's one I'd currently characterise as down-at-heel. Many thousands of people go to watch hockey in the UK each week, and many of them take a healthy interest in the NHL and the wider game, but British hockey has seen much better days.
What spin doctors would call a "rebuilding phase" is in progress. I still find the end product watchable and enjoyable but there is a way to go until it reaches new heights, and a number of fans yearn for the halcyon days of 1996 - which shows how a fragile sport's fortunes can change in a very short space of time.
Ideally, from British hockey's point of view, Crosby and friends would rekindle British enthusiasm with some captivating performances at the Olympics. Many of the big games are being broadcast by BBC Sport either on national television, interactive television or online, which is a platform hockey is rarely afforded in the UK.
There has never been a bigger international hockey competition than the Olympic tournament on Canadian ice and the game between Canada and the US on Sunday is one of the most eagerly anticipated international encounters in a long time. While much needs to be done to boost enthusiasm for the sport in the UK, some great Olympic hockey would be a good way to start.
However, it may possibly be your last taste of Olympic ice hockey as we know it as these are troublesome times for two reasons.
The first is the deteriorating relationship between the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the NHL. Given hockey at the Winter Olympics takes highly-paid stars away from the latter's lucrative, televised league every four years, NHL bosses seem ready to question whether the Olympics is all it's cracked up to be.
Just as winning a Summer Olympic event in tennis or football isn't really the highest achievement that sport can offer, there is a question mark over whether Olympic gold is worth more than the domestic Stanley Cup - no matter how much the Canadians want to win at their home Games.
"It's naive to just think the Olympics are great, so go," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters here earlier in the week. "We need to understand that there is an impact on our season and what can we do to balance that impact.
"If you look at this in a vacuum and all you are worried about is the two weeks of the Olympics, it is not a very difficult decision. But we don't exist in that vacuum.
"I was thinking of one statistic: $2.1bn (£1.36bn). That's the value of the contracts of the NHL players participating in this tournament. We have turned over, for two weeks, control of the most important asset of our game and that is our players."
It's hardly a viewpoint designed to reassure fans that their interests are at heart, but in raw commercial terms it is difficult to argue with Bettman's stance. For the IIHF, however, losing the NHL's backing at the Games would be a devastating blow.
"We need you, Gary, 100%," IIHF chief Rene Fasel told Bettman at the same press conference. "This is the pinnacle."
The man fronting hockey's world governing body publicly begging a league chief is quite something. Can you imagine Fifa's Sepp Blatter doing the same to Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore? Olympic hockey minus the NHL players would be fatally damaged, and the IIHF knows it. So does the NHL.
Related to that is the Olympic game's second big worry: the lack of any real international competition outside North America. In the men's game the Swedish are defending Olympic champions and the Russians are a threat, but even Switzerland's valiant and ultimately futile battle against Canada the other night was seen as a big shock.
And that's nothing compared to the women's game, where the Canadians are so far ahead of anyone else that to call the Olympic tournament a competition is to stretch the definition to breaking point.
NHL boss Bettman lays down the law as IIHF chief Fasel fixes his gaze. Photo: Getty Images
At the time of writing, Canada's women have played three games in their group, winning all three and scoring 41 goals in the process, while conceding just two. The US ladies dominate the other group in similar fashion, but are still comfortably second fiddle to Canada. The US may win but, to mix metaphors on a grand scale, many fans see it as a cast-iron gold medal for the host nation.
Baseball and softball were kicked out of the Summer Games having proved similarly easy to predict. If more nations don't start challenging in women's hockey soon, the sport's Olympic credentials will start to look incredibly weak - if they don't already.
So Olympic ice hockey faces the extreme scepticism of the sport's biggest domestic league by far, in addition to the embarrassing one-sidedness of one half of its schedule. And while this is going on most of the world's population sleeps soundly, unaware the game is even played.
Yet there is Crosby, who signed a contract extension worth $43.5m (£28m) three years ago; whose life is the subject of an endless sequence of news reports, opinion pieces and gossip columns. A true sporting superstar almost unknown outside his home continent.
"Who in blazes is Rene Fasel? Which NHL team did he ever play for? What has he ever achieved in hockey that has any credibility with anyone?" asked a Canadian reader below an earlier blog. It may be a reasonable enough point, but it is a short-sighted view of hockey's future.
Hockey should be working to ensure Crosby becomes a household name worldwide, and Sunday's huge encounter between Canada and the US should be a platform for that to happen. Refusing to put up with the rest of the world because the rest of the world doesn't know as much about hockey will only ensure that remains the case.
Most Canadians will tell you the problem lies not with their own attitude to the sport, but with New York native Bettman, wresting control of the game away from the nation which nurtured it. Bettman is often perceived in Canada as a man prepared to sell the game's soul to get it a wider US audience. It is Bettman, not the Canadian team or fans, sounding the alarm about the Winter Games. He has commercial interests to protect and they do not necessarily chime with Canada's, or anyone's, love of the game.
Between Fasel, the "outsider" with no hockey heritage outside Switzerland, and Bettman, the New York lawyer who is "not a hockey guy by any stretch", many Canadians feel their sport is being torn apart by people who don't understand it the way they do. That, in turn, is stopping the wider world getting to know it the same way.
It would be a shame, in four years' time, if there were no NHL players at the Winter Games in Sochi - no superstars to appear on television across the globe - because they were being kept safely wrapped up for North America to enjoy. Everyone should know who Sidney Crosby is. Everyone should know the game he's playing.