Wide Gap Between Canada And The Rest Of The World Part 2

It starts with CHL and younger leagues. That is the meaning of the results of the recently revived World Cup Of Hockey. That is the reason for the huge gap in quality of play, now not only between Canada and the dozen “B level” countries which been around for too many decades to count, but now between Canada and the other “traditional 6″ hockey powers, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, USA, Sweden and Finland. The World Cup was a total mismatch, with no real competition except two all star hybrids Europe and North America. All hockey fans are glad to have the World Cup back after 12 years hiatus but the tournament was an embarrassment.

There is only one good hockey country in the world now, Canada. They have stated in no uncertain terms that hockey is a Canadian game. If Canada wanted to get revenge for the humiliation of having no Canadian teams participate in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, they got it in spades. It is a good thing that the NHL is not organized on nationality lines with only Canadians playing for Canadian teams and Americans and the rest of the world playing on American teams. No American city would come within sniffing distance of the Stanley Cup – for decades.

All the World Cup did as a follow-up to the last two Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi was confirm how dominant Canada is in hockey, now pulling away from everybody else with no real competition in sight. And they did it without two of their very best players, Duncan Keith and Connor McDavid. They have now won 16 consecutive meaningful international games and that is no fluke. It is time for the rest of the world to wake up and address the gap in quality of play between Canada and everybody else or this gap will continue to the end of time. They have to do what Canada did in 1972 after the famous Canada-USSR match.

Back then there was almost total ignorance in Canada about the state of international hockey outside of its borders. The only warnings came from certain individuals who had been following international hockey for the previous decade and knew that amateur and minor league teams like the Trail Smokeaters who last won the World Championship for Canada in the early 1960s could not compete against the best of the world anymore and that only the very best players of Canada, playing in the NHL had a chance of winning. So ignorant was Canada about the USSR that it was even speculated that a team of NHL “goons” would be enough for an eight game sweep.

CanadaUSSR

Despite narrowly winning the series 4-3-1, Canada ate humble pie – a lot of humble pie. The revelation of near defeat led to a revolution in Canadian thinking about many aspects of hockey. It was now recognized that some European countries and the United States were catching up in quality of play to Canada. They took the result seriously. There was no blindness to what was going on in the sport of hockey as there is today in international baseball with the United States scornful and degrading reactions to the repeated results of the World Baseball Classic (see my article about the state of international hockey versus international baseball on this blog about this matter). Canada was prepared to adjust to the new reality of international hockey conditions.

Before the series, it was possible for NHL players to spend the summer laying about and guzzling beer before training camp. It was recognized that the USSR nearly defeated Canada because of its superior conditioning. After the match with the USSR, woe to the NHL player who reported to his autumn training camp out of shape. It would now cost him his job. Better conditioning in hockey was a direct result of this first international match. This lesson and much more was absorbed by Canada.

The results of two Olympics and now the World Cup, 16 straight defeats shows that it is time for the rest of the world to eat the same humble pie Canada did. And the lesson of the World Cup is that no country can compete with Canada now and in the future until they revise their junior and younger programs in their own countries. The CHL is the most obvious example of Canadian domination. It has been and continues to be the best program for training young players at the junior level in the world. No one else is close.

Many of  the top European and most of the best American players in the NHL got their training and development playing for the Canadian and handful of American franchises in the CHL. So great is the desire to get in, that the CHL has had to put restrictions on the number of Europeans a team is allowed to employ. And why do so many junior Americans and Europeans want to play in Canada? Because the training and experience they get is the best in the world and if they distinguish themselves against the top Canadian juniors, a ticket into the NHL and guaranteed fame and riches will follow. If I am a boy with hockey skills who lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Visby, Sweden and Kazan, Russia, I want the chance to prove myself against the best Canadian boys because if I succeed, I’ll have picked up the skills and training needed to become a high NHL draft choice.

Now look at the ridiculousness of the current international hockey situation. When asked about how the composition of the American team which could not beat anybody was chosen, the answer from management was that they were chosen “to beat Canada”. But where do American and European boys have to go to get their best training and development? You got it, Canada, and what does that say about the quality of training that they get in their own countries? It is just not good enough and the result is two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup triumph, and 16 straight victories for Canada. If you say that your goal is to “beat Canada” but you have to send your best young players to your mortal enemy to be trained effectively, it is the height of absurdity.

It is now time for the rest of the hockey world to eat humble pie and study the lessons of these defeats. And the main lesson is to revise the junior and younger hockey programs and systems in your own land so that your country produces and develops hockey players of the quantity and quality that Canada produces. That is meaning of this World Cup. No country that seriously wants to compete effectively with Canada can avoid doing this. Producing a winner for the World Cup and the Olympics starts at the junior and younger levels of hockey. Countries that want to win will have to conform with the Canadian junior model or devise something better. Right now, everybody else is playing for second place.

chl

There are approximately 60 CHL junior teams in Canada and the Northern United States, but you could double that number to 120 and stuff all the new teams exclusively with Americans and Europeans so long as they got the same training and development that Canadians do. Maybe then there would be some parity restored and a real expansion in international quality from the “big 7″ to the “big 16″. Let Canada train your children in hockey. They are the experts.

But the real solution is to set up junior systems in other countries that matches or exceeds the CHL. Until this is done, no country can be taken seriously as an international hockey power. Right now hockey is a Canadian game. There is nobody else.

Wide Gap Between Canada And The Rest Of The World Part 1

Mismatch, pure and simple. That is the message Canada delivered to the rest of the world after going undefeated in the revived World Cup Of Hockey in 2016. Team Europe gave it a gallant try, considering that they were supposed to be the joke of the tournament. The two defeats in the Final to Canada, 3-1 and 2-1 were not a disgrace. They showed they belonged on the same ice.

But they still lost and going back to the Vancouver Olympics of 2010 and including  the Sochi Olympics of 2014 and the World Cup of 2016, Canada has now won 16 straight games. The Canada of the Sidney Crosby era is more dominant now than when Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull were its star players in the 1970s, and later when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux led them in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s not a fluke.

The Canadian junior machine and younger leagues, symbolized by the CHL, keeps turning out top players en masse on schedule with no end in sight. When the Sidney Crosby era ends, the Connor McDavid era will begin. In 2018 in the Winter Olympics in South Korea and 2020 when the next World Cup will be played expect more of the same. Everybody else is playing for second place. There are no real challengers in sight. What is very revealing is that Team Canada played without two of its best players and still won easily. Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks arguably Canada’s first, second, or third best defenseman was injured, and Canada was not allowed to have its best young player, Connor McDavid who had to play for Team North America. One shudders to think how good Canada would have been if they had played for its team.

The meaning of this tournament is plain to see. Canada is pulling away from everybody else. What was particularly distressing was that the second and third best teams were the two hybrids, Team Europe, and Team North America, who were not supposed to win at all. They were created merely because NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recognized the truth, that little has been done in 44 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972 to improve the quality of hockey outside of the traditional “big 7″ hockey countries – Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden – and did not want any Canada 10 Norway 1, Russia 8 Latvia 2 laughers.

The two hybrids were supposed to be Canada’s worst competition. Instead what was revealed was that the five other national teams have tumbled badly when compared to Canada. In a recent article on the blog (Canada And The Hybrids Deserve Each Other) I listed the many sins of the other five countries that were so plain to see in the World Cup. They are no competition for Canada any more. Commissioner Bettman will accept congratulations for the Europe and North America idea but inside he can hardly be happy and could not imagine before the tournament that the other five national teams would play so pitifully. They were supposed to be Canada’s toughest competition. Instead they were the worst.

Before this tournament, international hockey was ranked this way:

“Big 7″
“B level teams”
Everybody else

That has changed to the following:

Canada
Remaining traditional 6
“B level teams”
Everybody else

Surely the worst problem in international hockey today that I have written about in several articles on this blog and elsewhere on other blogs is quality of play. I have repeatedly written about the need to get the quality of play of the “B level” countries – there are about a dozen countries in all stuck at this level since 1972 and earlier – up to the level of the traditional “big 7″. I have also written about the much worse state of international women’s hockey where only a “big 2″, Canada and the United States exist and there have been threats to expel the sport from the Olympics because of lack of competition.

Only now things are worse, there are two gaps. There is the gap that has been around for half a century and more between the “B level” teams and the traditional 7, and now there is the gap between Canada and the remaining 6.

The World Cup of Hockey and the Olympics cannot be developed until these gaps are breached and closed. If the goal is to develop the World Cup of Hockey so that it has the stature and importance of its counterpart in soccer, there has to be real competition and drama to capture the imagination of the fans. That does not exist anymore. Canada has no competition. The only possible meaningful competition that can occur now are matches between Canada and an all star team made up from the best of the other seven teams in the tournament.

The solution to this problem should not be to penalize Canada and diminish the excellence of its program and play. Rather it should be to raise up the quality of play of ALL the teams, both the remaining 6 and the “B levels” to the level of Canada. If Commissioner Bettman and NHLPA Director Donald Fehr want their World Cup to be a truly meaningful event, they have to start facing up to the quality problem and do something about it. All that has been done in the past 44 years is to host a few random hockey clinics and send a few coaches from the “big 7″ to other countries. It has not worked and the product is the result of the recent World Cup. The quality problem is staring them directly in the face and will not go away. It is time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

Myth Vs Reality: International Baseball Vs. International Hockey

The revival of the World (formerly Canada) Cup of Hockey that I am currently writing about reminds me about another subject that I wrote a few articles about on another blog a few years ago, the World Baseball Classic. And since I recall it, it is appropriate to make a few comparisons between the state of international hockey and the state of international baseball.

Two obvious differences are cost and climate and baseball has the advantage in both. It is far cheaper and easier to learn to play baseball and become good in the sport than it is to develop a young hockey player. Children from poorer countries can learn to play baseball while to learn to play hockey properly means at least being able to afford a pair of skates and lots of protective gear. And while baseball can be played almost continually year round, to be played properly, hockey must wait for winter in the polar regions of Canada, the northern United States, Scandinavia, and Russia or build and maintain expensive indoor rinks. That makes it easier to get more recruits for baseball than hockey.

As result of greater participation, international baseball does not have a quality problem like international hockey. In the 44 years since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, the top 7 teams are still the same; Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden. After the “big 7″, the quality of play drops off noticeably. Baseball has no such problem with far more countries able to field quality teams. But there lies the main problem with the growth of international baseball, that retards its development – and it is all due to American mythology. Hockey has no such problem.

In the aftermath of the near defeat of Canada by the USSR in 1972, a revolution in thinking about international hockey occurred. It was now recognized by Canadians that Europeans and Americans were catching up in the quality of play and that the best players in the world no longer exclusively came from Canada. Shortly after that, the first Europeans started to penetrate the NHL which has led to the development of the league as fans know it today; a multi-national league with the vast majority of its players coming from the “big 7″ countries. Canada is usually the favorite, one step ahead of the other “big 7″, but it is no longer an upset if one of those other countries win major international tournaments. And the attitude of Canadians to these tournaments has changed too. Winning events like the Olympics, the World Cup, the World Women’s Championship, and the World Junior Championship are considered major achievements by Canadians.

But in contrast to Canada’s sensible revised thinking about international hockey, the United States clings to laughable, unrealistic myths about international baseball and its own domestic product. In contrast to international hockey tournaments which are treated with respect by North Americans, the World Baseball Classic is constantly belittled and treated with disrespect by Americans. This helps to hide an ignominious fact; the host country has never won a medal.

Instead American fans like to pretend that they “don’t send their best players” or some other unrealistic excuse or they simply ignore the results and the facts. But the repeated World Baseball Classic results prove that Americans are not the best players of baseball any more. No matter. Americans like to still claim that the true champions and the “real tough” competition lies within Major League Baseball.

In three of the four major professional sports that are played in the United States; baseball, football, and basketball, Americans like to proclaim that the winner is the “world champion” instead of just being the mere champion of the United States. Actually the only true international championship in any of these sports that ever occurred was when the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball participated in the “World” Series. The NHL used to call itself and occasionally still does use the term “world champions”, but now usually uses the more correct title of Stanley Cup Champions thanks to the developments in international hockey.

American chauvinism is hurting the development of international baseball. Their continued disrespect for the World Baseball Classic is simply boorish. Some American commentators like former MLB player and television commentator Tony Kubek used to dream of a true world championship between the MLB winner and the champion of the Japanese leagues, but the American attitude to international play makes such a dream impossible to realize.

And the myths and disrespect hide another brazen fact; American baseball fans are being cheated by their own myths and self-deception. The NHL with a few exceptions can truthfully say that the vast majority of the best players in the world play in its league. But the results of the World Baseball Classic show that a large percentage of the best baseball players – maybe even the majority – do not play in Major League Baseball. So American fans are paying top dollar for a product that may be far from being the best possible. And yet they continue to pour scorn on the World Baseball Classic and insist that the only true champion is the one who wins the “World” Series.

As the future second President of the United States, John Adams stated when he was defending the British soldiers who were involved in the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.” Despite all the advantages that international baseball has as opposed to international hockey, as long as Americans continue to cling to their myths, the prospects for developing hockey internationally may be much brighter than for baseball. The main problem with international hockey is that its top quality is limited to seven countries. But if this can be overcome, international hockey can look forward to bright future developments, while international baseball remains in the dark ages.

Canada And The Hybrids Deserve Each Other

So it is now a World Cup Final between Canada and hybrid Team Europe, the only team without a national anthem. And the third best team in the tournament was probably Team North America. This was the last thing anybody needed or wanted.

It was a great idea to revive the World Cup as a regular event that had been lost in the wilderness for twelve years. It was a chance to pit the national teams of the traditional “big 7″ countries against each other plus some improved invited guests. What started out so promising instead has become a clear mirror as to the state of international hockey (More about this in a future article). The five teams that should have given Canada its toughest competition have been an embarrassment instead.

Poor NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He wanted to improve the competition level in this tournament by excluding “B level” countries and creating united conglomerates which he christened Europe and North America. This was to prevent embarrassments like Canada 10 Norway 1, Russia 8 Latvia 2, and USA 7 Poland 0, etc. The creation of these two hybrids showed that Bettman recognized that during the previous 44 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972, virtually nothing had been done to improve the level of play outside of the “big 7″. Back then, there had been boasts that hockey would become the number 2 sport behind soccer. Instead after four decades, excellence in hockey is still confined to its same narrow base as it was back then. So North America and Europe were created to provide competitive games but they were not supposed to win.

The first mistake was to exclude Slovakia, a “big 7″ country from icing a team in the tournament. Slovakians would form the heart of Team Europe. But what Bettman could not foresee was the truly dismal effort the national teams, other than Canada would give.

Start with Team Finland 0-3. Their excuse was that it was a young team just learning the ropes of international competition. They claim they are happy with the result. The future they insist, “is bright”. If that is true, that is at least the most credible excuse. Hope reigns for the future. It is far worse for the others.

Moving along we come to Team USA, now everybody’s favorite whipping boy in the tournament. According to their management, they were put together to “beat Canada” supposedly the best team in the tournament, but instead started out by being shamefully shut out by Europe, supposedly the worst team and then it was downhill from there. Neither former Conn Smythe Trophy winner goaltender Jonathan Quick nor Ben Bishop who took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final was particularly stingy, but you cannot win if you do not score and USA scored a grand total of 5 goals in 3 games prompting excluded veteran Phil Kessel to tweet taunts at the team.

Actually if you really want to rub it in on USA remind them of the Hollywood sports fantasies they so love to create. In hockey’s case the Americans cooked up the Mighty Ducks, a team of hacks who somehow manage to become champions of the world. Of course not wishing to offend Canada and lose its market, Disney always had Canada defeated off camera by some bad guy European country leaving it to the Ducks to save North American hockey. The Ducks have yet to play and defeat a Canadian team. This of course has prompted howls of ridicule and contempt from every child north of the 49th Parallel. Needless to say, the Ducks were not at this current tournament to save the day. They might have beaten Team USA though.

Russia and the Czech Republic can hardly hold their heads much higher than the Americans. Once feared as usually the second and third ranked hockey powers of the world, this tournament underlined how far they have tumbled compared to Canada. In fact it is hard to remember when the Czech Republic has iced a truly competitive team capable of winning tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics. They started off with a shameful 6-0 shutout by Canada, clearly showing that did not belong on the same ice, failed to defeat supposedly bad Europe, and then managed to eke out a win against the even sorrier Americans. One can hardly wait for a rematch with Canada.

As for Russia, the World Cup showed once again why this Alexander Ovechkin-led team has never won a medal at any Olympics in which he is supposed to be Russia’s best player and why he has never even been to the Eastern Conference Final with the Washington Capitals. Billed as the equal of Sidney Crosby whom he is supposed to have a rivalry with, Canada made sure that his name never appeared on the score sheet against them proving once again that Crosby is a difference maker while Ovechkin is not. He wants to play for Russia again during the 2018 Olympics whether the NHL participates or not, but given his team record both internationally and with Washington in the playoffs, it would be better to give someone else a chance.

How far has Russia fallen when compared with Canada? Russia gave up 47 shots in only 3 periods to Canada and the 5-3 score is more of a tribute to the heroic goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky than any virtue by the rest of the Russian team. Goaltending is probably the only position where Russia is competitive with Canada anymore.

Finally we come to Sweden which was billed with Canada as one of the tournament favorites. Sweden is usually described as a team that wins by its skating and offensive skill ability. They managed to beat Russia led by Ovechkin who again failed to rise to the occasion and “rookie” filled Finland. Balanced against those meager achievements was their failure to beat either of the hybrids. Henrik Lundqvist showed why he is the Ovechkin of goaltenders in the NHL and why he has never won the Stanley Cup, giving up two overtime winners to both North America and Europe.

If Sweden was really one of the favorites, they should have beaten every opponent with authority, the way Canada did. And their vaunted skating ability was nowhere to be seen. Against Europe in the semi-final, they looked like a tired, old team plodding along, not one out to prove that they were a real challenger for Canada as the best in world.

So that just leaves Europe which was supposed to be the joke of the tournament as Canada’s opponent in the Final. Gary Bettman of course will accept the applause for his “good idea” in creating these two hybrids, but inside he can hardly be pleased. North America and Europe were created to provide interesting, decent competition. They were not supposed to win. But this debacle is not Bettman’s fault. Who would have predicted before this tournament started that every national team except Canada would play like turkeys who did not belong, leaving the door wide open for two low ranked hybrids to prove themselves.

More Ignominy For Russia And Ovechkin

Well Russia improved; they made the semi-finals, the score was not the 7-3 laugher it was in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and they managed to defeat the Canadian “B” team (disguised as Team North America) along the way. Other than that, this World Cup is just another signpost about how far the country once ranked as the second best in the world, if not the best, has fallen in comparison to Canada.

And of course during this “Ovechkin era”, Canada made sure that Russia’s leader had a clean sheet again; his name does not appear in the scoring statistics. His team got treated the same way his Washington Capitals get treated, they either get upset by inferior opponents, or they cannot create an upset themselves. They are willing to let Alexander Ovechkin get lots of individual honors, but no team glory which severely tarnishes his career and reputation. He can drown his sorrows with his spiritual ancestor, Marcel Dionne, who had a similar career.

Statistics tell the story. You are not going to win a game if you give up 47 shots in three periods. That the score was only 5-3 can be attributed to Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Goaltending may be the only position where there is any parity between Russia and Canada anymore.

Before the game, Team Canada tried to play down the “special rivalry” that has existed between them and Russia since 1972 and they were right. Russia is simply another team now, to be kicked aside in same manner the Canadians kicked aside the USA, Europe, and the Czech Republic.

Russian hockey is simply not what it was. In years past it had individual stars but it was the team collectively that shone together. Now Russia has some stars but no team. Ovechkin came into the NHL with the promise to be the first non-Canadian to be as good as the best Canadian, in this case Sidney Crosby. But Ovechkin’s career is only a shadow of Crosby’s who has two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one in which he scored the decisive goal, and probably will add a World Cup Championship to his shelf of honors after this tournament is over. Crosby is a difference maker; Ovechkin is not.

Today Russia is no longer one of the two teams to beat. They do not scare anybody anymore. And that is sad. Russia versus Canada used to be the game everyone looked forward to, the marquee match of every international hockey tournament. Now it is just another game.

Ghosts Of Montreal Canadiens Past: Price Versus Halak

There are only two things wrong with today’s Team Europe-Team Canada match. First, Canada should have lost to Team USA making this a must-win game for Canada and that the game should be held in Montreal, not Toronto.

On paper at least, this was supposed to be the worst mismatched, laughable game of the whole round-robin of the World Cup. Instead it has the potential to be one of the most dramatic and it is all because of the potential two goaltenders involved, ex-teammates/rivals, current and former Montreal Canadiens goaltenders Carey Price of Canada, and Jaroslav Halak of Team Europe.

Flashback to the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs when Price and Halak were teammates on the Montreal Canadiens. Neither had established himself as the number one Montreal goaltender and there was little to choose between them. But when the Stanley Cup playoffs started, eighth place Montreal handed the starting position to Halak who was probably the main reason Montreal fashioned major upsets over first place Washington led by Alexander Ovechkin, and then an even bigger upset over defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Philadelphia finally ended Montreal’s hopes in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the then Montreal management (since replaced) decided that Montreal was not big enough for both Price and Halak and that one of them had to go. They decided to keep the younger Price and traded Halak to St. Louis leaving Montreal fans wondering ever since if they kept the right goaltender or if both should have been retained.

Price of course has since become a Vezina Trophy winner, Montreal’s main hope for success and Halak has done well with St. Louis and now with the New York Islanders. Does Montreal miss Halak? Not the way Price has developed but they sure could have used him last year when Price got hurt. Halak would have probably put Montreal into the playoffs and might have taken them deep into the later rounds.

The Montreal goaltender controversy was supposed to be over, a minor blip in hockey history that would soon be forgotten. But now the mischievous hockey gods have decided that Halak who is a ghost in Price’s closet from long ago to appear again in the flesh to oppose him at the highest level in the World Cup.

Unfortunately Canada beat the United States making today’s game with Europe meaningless except for who will play who in the semi-finals. But can you imagine if Canada had lost and had to win today and had to face Halak who would be given the chance to put Canada and Price out of the tournament?

Instead today’s game is anti-climatic except that Team Europe is not supposed to be this good and now has a chance to test themselves against the tournament favorite. But do the coaches even start Halak and Price or keep them on the bench for a potential future rematch in the World Cup Final?

As mentioned earlier, Canada should have lost, and this game played in Montreal. The hockey gods in their own perverted way have set up this potential match-up. Maybe it will not occur today, but it might occur later with even more perverted, dramatic intensity in the World Cup Final.

Composition Of Team Europe Shows Which Countries To Develop First

Now that underdog Team Europe which was not supposed to win a single game at the revived World Cup is now 2-0, part of the future for the World Cup should be apparent. Right now in 2016, the goal was just to get the tournament revived again. For 2020, the goal should be to expand the participants.

The idea for Team Europe and Team North America was to avoid embarrassing mismatches between traditional “big 7″ countries and other countries stuck at the “B level” in quality of play. Team Europe is composed of players who do not play for Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the Czech Republic.

The composition of Team Europe is important to note. The heart of Team Europe is 6 players from Slovakia, a “big 7″ country that for some mysterious reason was not allowed to ice a team. Next comes 5 players from Germany, and 4 from Denmark and Switzerland. Austria, France, Norway and Slovenia are represented by one player.

The composition of the team is not surprising. Switzerland and Denmark are probably the two countries who have shown the most improvement in quality of play during the past 40 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972 and Germany is simply a large, populous country that cannot help developing a few good players.

Therefore the goal for the next four years when the next World Cup is scheduled to be played should be to bring back Slovakia and develop the quality of Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany so that they can ice teams of their own that have a real chance to win major tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics. Get these countries up from the “B level” of play so that there is now a “big 10″ group of teams instead of the traditional “big 7″.

At a recent press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr mentioned that the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings were hosting clinics to develop players in China. But improvements in China, currently ranked 37th in the world cannot help spread the game of hockey or expand the World Cup and other important international hockey tournaments right now. The priority should be focused on getting the large group of countries stuck at the “B level” of play – Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland are the obvious places to start, and then the other four countries listed above, up to the level of play of the traditional “big 7″ countries. Kazakhstan, Latvia, Italy, Belarus, and Poland are other countries stuck at this level.

If the World Cup of Hockey is to attain the stature and status of its counterpart in soccer, the number of participating countries have to increase and the quality of play among ALL the tournament participants has to be improved. Ideally the World Cup of Hockey should aim for a 12 or even 16 member tournament. But even a ten team tournament with Slovakia back and Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland playing up to the level of the traditional “big 7″ teams PERMANENTLY in the future would be a major achievement for international hockey, considering how little has been done to improve the quality of play elsewhere in the previous four decades.

The World Cup of Hockey has unlimited potential for growth but its potential cannot be realized until the quality of hockey is improved outside of the traditional “big 7″. The achievement of the current tournament and Team Europe is that it has shown clearly with which countries the process of improvement should begin.