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No Olympic hockey secrets this time around? Just like Sittler and Salming in the 1976 Canada Cup.

I saw an interview with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg recently. He was smiling as he talked about the fact this his coach with the Wings, Mike Babcock—also the head coach for Team Canada—knows how he plays and basically will know all his “secrets” when he plays for Sweden against Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver.

That’s the reality now, with so many elite European players in the NHL—there are few, if any, real secrets.

Babcock can tell Canadian players about any “weaknesses” that Pavel Datsyuk Zetterberg or Nik Lidstrom may have, right? Same with Team Canada assistant coaches Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock; they’ve all coached players who, for two weeks, will be the “enemy” for either the American team or various European national teams.

Will Ruff, for example, explain to Team Canada forwards where to shoot against Ryan Miller, who will surely continue to be the number-one U.S. goalie in the tournament? If Ruff does have unique insight that he is willing to share, it’s a big trade off, since he’ll essentially be letting the rest of the NHL world know about any Miller tendencies—or weaknesses.

Interesting stuff. What wins out—national pride or NHL club loyalty?

I remember the first time I heard about this kind of “conflict”. It was back in the summer of 1976, when Canada was hosting the first-ever “Canada Cup”.

Canada won, of course, on a great goal by Maple Leaf captain Darryl Sittler (Leaf fans will remember the classic fake shot, and how Sittler held on to the puck and slid it into the open net) against a determined Czechoslovakia national side in the final.

However, earlier in the event, there were stories about how Sittler “informed” on his Maple Leaf teammate, Borje Salming, the backbone of the Swedish defense.

I can’t recall the particulars, but if memory serves, Sittler had to choose between his loyalty to “Canada” and to his club team, the Leafs. Leaf fans of that era will well remember that Salming had that wonderful little “spin” move. A version of that move was first utilized by all-time Montreal great, defenseman Doug Harvey in the 1950s and early 1960s. By the later 1960s it was perfected at high speed by Bobby Orr and massaged later by Montreal’s Serge Savard. (The legendary English-language voice of the Habs, Danny Gallivan, used to refer to it as the “Savardian spinorama”.)

Salming had his own version, where he would move in such a way that it looked like he was continuing in a certain direction, then would basically stop on a dime and spin around and go the other way to pass, shoot or keep carrying the puck. He would sometimes slip the puck between his legs as he was spinning.

I believe it was about effectively defending against that particular move that Sittler spilled the beans, though I can’t be sure as my memory fades after 30+ years. But I do recall Sittler being quoted to the effect that he did provide what information he could to his Team Canada coaches and teammates about Salming’s tendencies.

Whatever he shared couldn’t have hurt Salming too much. Once the Canada Cup was over, Salming was an NHL end-of-season all-star from 1977 right through until 1980.

So my guess is, coaches and teammates will spill their guts about all the little tendencies they have noticed about teammates from their current club teams who they will face as an international opponent. But at the end of the day, it won’t create a major advantage for any of the “big” teams. The game is so heavily scouted—and coached in such microscopic detail now—that any “secrets” exchanged won’t have any dramatic effect on the play of any individuals, just as it had not real lasting effect on Salming.

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