98673660AG002_Latvia_v_Cana

There’s an interesting article up at the IIHF website.  It’s a long read, but essentially what it boils down to is an attempt to shame players who declined an invitation to play for their country at the IIHF World Championships.  Generally I agree with the idea that if a player can go, he should go; not just to pay the country back for investing in hockey but also because playing in a competitive environment with different line-mates and for different coaches is a good way to develop as a player.  That said, reading about these players who “turn their backs not only on the team and its fans but also to the system which developed them and made them rich and famous” on the IIHF website comes across as a bit self-serving, since nobody benefits from marquee players at the World Championships as much as the IIHF does.

 

Still, the surprisingly preachy tone and the self-interest weren’t what caught my eye.  What caught my eye was this quote, about the Canadian hockey program:

 

When Canada re-entered international competition in 1977, not many observers where impressed by the general skill level of Canadian players. But it was during that period that Hockey Canada invested serious resources into the Program of Excellence which today has paid off in two Olympic gold medals, five men’s IIHF World Championship gold medals, and 15 World Junior gold medals.

 

That’s an interesting perspective, and one I think is difficult to support.  The Program of Excellence, which started in 1982, may very well have played a role in Canada’s resurgence, and there’s no denying that Hockey Canada has come a long ways since its inception, but to credit that body with the wholesale turn around of the Canadian hockey program simply makes no sense to me.

 

The two Olympic medals seem like a bad place to start.  After all, it wasn’t Hockey Canada’s development system that turned around Canada’s Olympic hopes – in five Olympics between 1980 and 1994, Canada didn’t capture gold on even one occasion.  It was only when professional NHL’ers joined the tournament that things changed – and Canada has captured two gold medals in the four tournaments featuring the best players in the world.

 

It seems equally foolish to credit the program with those five World Championship medals – after all, Canada didn’t win Gold until 1994, a full 12 years after the Program of Excellence was initiated.

 

Finally, it’s true that it was Hockey Canada’s program that initiated World Junior success, but I’d give less credit to development and more credit to the fact that prior to 1982 it was a club team – not a collection of the best junior players in Canada – that represented the country at the World Juniors.  Moving to a format that brought the best Canadian players together had more to do with turning the tide than any developmental system.  That’s an organizational change, not an improvement in skill level via development.

 

In short, if observers were unimpressed with the skill level of Canadian players, that’s probably because before 1982 most of the best Canadian players didn’t get to participate – either at the Olympics or the World Juniors.

Comments (7)

  1. Jon, agreed on all points, but the article was fairly transparently an IIHF attempt to puff up the importance of their tournament rather than any legitimate criticism.

    It’s funny, prior to the Olympics you heard the Russian fans, media, and executive staff crowing about how they were the two-time world champions as though that meant more than the fact that they hadn’t won a best-on-best tournament since 1981. The IIHF simply brings a skewed sense of perspective to discussions such as this one, acting as though their tournament is more important than it truly is.

    While I give great credit to men like Dave King for doing yeoman’s work in a very difficult environment, it’s obvious that they never had the best talent at their disposal.

    The best way to think of this is to look at Olympics which were held with all teams either sending NHLers OR labouring under the same general restrictions (92, 94). Canada played in four of the six finals, and won two of those. I think that’s as good a proof as any that, with a level playing field, we give as good as we get. The IIHF tends to ignore that because they want to convince up-and-coming European teams that beating “Canada” at the World Championships is an important accomplishment.

    I think that comes back around to Crosby; if he was there, and Canada lost, they could say “oh, you may not have had your best players, but your hero was there so that’s good enough.” With him not there – and his visibility so high following the Olympics – it makes it harder to sell fans in hockey neophyte countries such as Switzerland, Germany, and Latvia (the three biggest markets for the Worlds outside the traditional powers) that being competitive with Canada is a sign that their national team is legitimately competitive on the World level.

  2. Well said JW. I think the World Championships are a great place to send our young players for the international experience they may not get if we send our best at any given time. These guys are our future Olympic players. Russia may win it this year but they are sending their best to help alleviate the pain from the egg they laid in Vancouver. In Canada it will always be Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, 3 on 3 street hockey tourneys and then World Championships.

  3. While the rest of the World, Europe etc.,takes this tournament very seriously we will always regard it as a slightly more important cousin of the Spengler Cup. Especially during an Olympic year.

  4. Has anybody thought of reducing the amount international tournaments such as the World Championship or Spengler Cup. To me less is more. There would be interest in these tournaments if there were fewer. Even though the head of IIHF was making some valid points about Crosby and the common worker, Sid the kid should not be the scape goat for declining an invitation not to go to Germany. The finger should be pointed at other Canadian players such as Boumeester, B.Richards, Lecavilier, St.Louis, to name a few who decided to think of themselves, take a nice long summer vacation instead of contributing to Canada and helping them win.

  5. Whatever association that was in place that didn’t have the Olympics and the Worlds during the same year until the 1960′s had it right. Having both in the same year is particularly fruitless.

  6. If they are going to hold a Worlds in an Olympic year – and no reason why they shouldn’t – the IIHF should treat it for what it is … the beginning of the NEXT Olympiad. The big selling point of this year’s tourney has been all that 1990s vintage talent that’s been on display. They should be celebrating that, rather than saying “See our little tourney is so insignificnat that the big stars don’t show up!” Seems like a very poor marketing choice.

  7. [...] now then it was when they were down by only two games. I thought the IIHF take was ridiculous (for a variety of reasons) and Kouleas and Wyshynski do a good job of explaining why.   Filed under: Uncategorized [...]

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