Puck Daddy - NHL

During a debate about golf in the Summer Olympics, ESPN.com writer Bob Harig made this claim: "There is a simple litmus test to determine whether a sport is of Olympic caliber: Does winning a gold medal trump anything else an athlete can do?"

That's a fascinating perspective. For an elite skier, there's probably no comparison between Olympic gold and some giant crystal paperweight.

For a professional hockey player, it's a more provocative debate: Does winning an Olympic gold while representing your nation or the Stanley Cup, the most coveted trophy in the game, mean more?

It's a topic that's been debated, debated and debated again amongst hockey fans. But what do the players think?

Reuters asked some Vancouver Canucks players during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final for their preference in the Gold/Cup debate. Said Daniel Sedin(notes) of Vancouver, who won gold with Sweden in 2006:

"I think this is obviously the biggest game you can play," said Sedin. "I think you look at Olympic finals, world championships.

"But when you play this long, with good friends and team mates, it's the biggest game you can play. I mean, you played 82 games just to get in, then it's a long run in the playoffs, too. For sure they are the biggest games you can play in."

Said Ryan Kesler(notes), who played on the U.S. silver medalist in Vancouver 2010:

"Obviously the Olympics was one of the biggest stages I ever played on," said Kesler.

"I believe this is bigger. I've said it before. We worked extremely hard all year and I've played with these two guys (Sedin twins) next to me for close to five years. I played with Alex (Burrows) longer. Every year we work for the same goal. To finally get here and to finally have a chance at achieving our goal, it's something special."

Of course, these players are in the thick of the Cup quest and thus aren't likely do diminish its importance. Fact is, this debate is all about context: Have the players already won one or the other? Does a gold mean more to them because it means more to their birth country? Does the Cup mean more to them because they grew up as an NHL fan?

Take Alex Ovechkin(notes) of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin grew up in an Olympic-mad country but also as an NHL fan. He was asked the Gold/Cup question in 2009:

"The Olympics are my dream! True, I still haven't tamed the Stanley Cup. But it is difficult to compare these two tournaments. The Olympics happen only once every four years, and you defend the honor of your country there. But you still have to plough like a horse during the regular season. 82 games is no joke. So my goal-is to win both trophies!"

But then there's Karlis Skrastins(notes) of Latvia, who said in 2009:

"That's a really tough one, but I'll go with the Stanley Cup." Skrastins said. "A lot of players dream of gold medals, but for a hockey player, for this one, it's the Stanley Cup."

If you were an NHL player, what would mean more to you: Olympic gold around your neck or your name on the Stanley Cup? It's a question Roberto Luongo(notes) is three wins away from having to answer ...

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