View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: What is the state of Canadian international hockey?
For the fifth straight year Canada has failed to win a gold medal at the World Mens Junior Hockey Championships.
And, for the second straight year, they did not even manage a medal of any hue.
As Canadians we are seeing the sky falling in as our young charges went down to Finland in the semi finals in a contest where they were simply out-played.
It was a better effort in the bronze medal game, but it was still a 2-1 loss to Russia.
And so we start the soul-searching process of what’s wrong with Canadian hockey.
Well the game here has evolved to suck any element of individual flare out of players. No one wants a player trying to be creative on the ice.
It’s bang the puck off the boards or dump it in deep, and chase hockey, based on the belief defence overcomes offence.
The proponents of defence only might be right that it makes any team competitive, in the international game, skill is still important.
The system here stymies that.
That said, Canada still produces more good players than any other country.
But, when you skim off a 23-player layer of cream, well cream is cream. Many countries now have very good elite programs, as witnessed by Finland’s gold medal win.
In terms of Finland winning, and Canada not, in the grander scheme of all things hockey, it is a good thing.
A perennial winner is bad for any league or sport.
A level of parity where several teams have a legitimate shot at winning, is a good thing.
So while we might be crying the blues over yet another loss, it is a situation where hockey is simply becoming more competitive at the international level, which is ultimately a good thing for the sport.
Olympics aside, Team Canada has struggled mightily when it comes to hockey on the international stage in recent years.
Some will say it’s because our players are simply not as skilled as they once were.
Others will say it’s because hockey is becoming an elitist sport with the price of registration and equipment keeping many kids out of the game.
Still others will blame the European refs or the larger European ice surface for Canada’s demise.
I, however, will blame Canadians for Canada’s struggles. The reason Canada has seen limited success on the international stage is simple: We’ve done too good a job at helping other nations grow the sport and groom their players.
Think about it. The most improved hockey nation, Switzerland, has a Canadian, Sean Simpson, as its National team head coach. Team Latvia and Team Germany also have Canadians at the helm with Ted Nolan (Latvia) and Pat Cortina (Germany) calling the shots on their benches.
Now take a look at the top 10 leading scorers of the three Major Junior leagues. Of course you’ll see Canadians leading the way. But look a little deeper. Danish forward Oliver Bjorkstrand is currently fourth in WHL scoring, Russian Nikita Scherbak is eighth and German Leon Draisaitl is just outside the top 10 in 11th.
Another Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers, sits seventh in QMJHL scoring while the third and fifth positions in the OHL are held by a pair of Russians, Nikolay Goldobin and Sergey Tolchinsky. The top goalie in the OHL? Sweden’s Oscar Dansk.
Clearly it’s Canada’s fault that we are no longer heads and shoulders above the rest of the world. But you know what? We’re still awesome. And to the rest of the hockey world: You’re welcome.
At the risk of firing up a pitchfork and torch mob to descend on my front doorstep, here is my take on the state of Canadian hockey.
How the heck did we ever manage to allow our national self-esteem to get so wrapped up in a game?
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love hockey (although it doesn’t crack my personal Top 5 favourite sports). I’m a big fan of the Ottawa Senators (not those Red Chamber senators, the hockey team). I am always proud when our Canadian teams do well in international competition and disappointed when they don’t. I celebrated jubilously along with everyone else when we won gold at the 2010 Olympics. I remember the elation of watching Paul Henderson score the winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series even though I was only nine years old.
At the end of the day, though, it’s just a game. Gasp! Yes, I said it.
I’m sure both of my Cheap Seats colleagues will have a much more informed opinion about the debate over whether the rest of the world is catching up to us or whether Hockey Canada isn’t doing its job to maintain our hockey supremacy, although I’m not entirely sure that supremacy is empirically true or just part of the nationalist mythology.
For me, I will continue to passionately cheer for our national teams, male and female, and my Sens. I will probably watch a fair bit of the Stanley Cup (whether Ottawa is there or not) and exult in the triumphs of whichever of our Canadian boys fulfill the ultimate ambition of hoisting that iconic Canadian trophy. And I extend my best wishes to our local teams for a successful season.
Other than that, I will leave the state of Canadian hockey in the capable hands of those who know and care more about it than I ever will.