I’ve mentioned this topic briefly in a few of my recent articles on this blog about the upcoming revived World Cup and now it is time to go into more details. I have criticized the state of men’s international hockey for the past several years, specifically that in the four decades since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, no other countries have joined the “big 7″ – Canada, Russia, USA, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Slovakia – in quality of play. Switzerland and recently Denmark nibble at the periphery of the group but still are not the equal of the big 7. In all there about a dozen countries still stuck at the “B level” of hockey quality and the rest of the ranked 50 countries are much worse.
But if the state of international men’s hockey is bad, the state of international women’s hockey is horrendous where the very existence of the sport is threatened. At least the men can boast of a “big 7″; the women only have a “big 2″, Canada and the United States. Due to lack of competition there have been threats to expel women’s hockey from the Olympics.
Statistics tell the ugly story. The first World Women’s Hockey Championship was held in 1990, and did not even get played on a yearly basis until 1999. Since it started Canada and the United States have always finished 1-2; there has NEVER been a championship featuring another country. The real competition among other countries is for third place, most credibly by Finland. Among the other competitors are Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, and China. The other 7 ranked countries are much worse.
It is obvious from the results for both men and women in the past 40 years that nobody seems to have a clue about developing competitive hockey internationally at the highest level. Somehow curling in BOTH men’s and women’s competition has achieved competitive credibility. Maybe it is an unrealistic or unfair comparison but curling has succeeded where hockey has failed.
Women’s hockey has always been secondary to men. They don’t command the respect, prestige, or resources available to men, and it is fair to point out that compared to men, women’s hockey is a new development. In my opinion the main reason for the state of international hockey for both sexes being what it is, is because nobody regards the topic serious enough to do anything about it. In a recent press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined some projected developments for international hockey – with the conspicuous omission of any plan to raise the standard of play. The best they could do was mention that the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings were hosting a few clinics for low ranked China.
If women want to move ahead of men in international hockey competition, the opportunity is there on a platter. Surely finding a way to raise the standard of play internationally has to be THE number one problem to be solved because the very existence of international women’s hockey depends upon it. Nobody can take the sport seriously at the international level if there are only two competitive countries.
I know resources are limited for women as compared to men but someone has to sit down and work out ways and means of raising the standard of play for women’s hockey outside of North America. In the long four decades since 1972, there has never been a study about why the standard of international hockey play has not grown nor any organized plan about correcting the problem. Host a few clinics, send a few out-of-work coaches from the “big 7″ countries abroad seems to be the only things that are done and it has not worked.
If one wants a lesson from history, just think of the English Civil War of 1642-1646. The Royalists were actually winning against the superior resources of the Parliamentarians until Oliver Cromwell correctly diagnosed the problem and urged Parliament to create a reorganized New Model Army along his ideas. Someone has to do the same for international hockey, especially for the women.
If women want to win the “battle of the sexes” in international hockey, this is their opportunity. Find a way of raising the standard of international hockey play outside of North America and women will be far ahead of the game.