In the World Junior Championships, Canada dominates the United States. The score is Canada 16, United States 4 in gold medals and Canada 30, United States 10 in total medals. Overall the United States sits 4th in both gold medals and total medals.
Given the huge population advantage the United States has, one might have expected a reversal of medals, but Canada’s lead proves that quality wins over quantity. Why is this possible? Most likely it is because of Canada’s secret weapon, the CHL.
No other country has a junior hockey institution like the CHL. It consists of three branches; a western league which includes a United States division, an Ontario league which has three American franchises, and a Quebec-Maritime league. At the end of the CHL season, the champions of each branch compete for the Memorial Cup along with a host city. The Memorial Cup tournament host team rotates each year through the three leagues.
The United States has no equivalent of the CHL. American players who become NHL players and play for the United States internationally usually come from the CHL or from hockey played at the American university level. Since the advent of Europeans in the 1970s, European boys also want to play in the CHL, so much so that the league has had to set a limit on how many Europeans can play on each team.
It is easy to see why so many Americans and Europeans want to play in the CHL. The quality of play at the junior level is high. The teams play a tough, rugged style that the NHL draws on. Americans and Europeans who join the CHL get a chance to compete directly against Canada’s top young talent. Not only do they get trained well, but if they distinguish themselves in the CHL, it is almost a certain ticket to becoming a high draft choice in the NHL draft.
For the record, if a young American with hockey talent gets drafted by a CHL team, he’ll move to that town or city where there are volunteer families who act as sponsors, a type of “foster parents” where he will live and become a part of that family. He will attend a Canadian or American high school to continue his education. And in the case of some Europeans, they will get a chance to learn to speak English or French. So Americans and Europeans can become “Canadianized” in more than just hockey.
And it seems that the United States and Europe are quite content to let Canada train most of their top stars. If the CHL ever expands (there approximately 60 teams at present) there would be no problem finding a talent pool in Canada, the United States and Europe to stock several new teams.
But this is one of the main reasons that hockey remains number 4 in status in the United States. The United States (and Europe) simply do not put in the resources necessary at the junior level and younger to raise the quality of play and the game’s stature. In Canada, hockey is number one. It is not a fluke that Canada dominates international play at most levels. They have better training, better coaches, and they put more resources into hockey.
If the game of hockey is going to rise in status in the United States, more has to be done at the junior levels or younger to make it happen. Perhaps an American equivalent of the CHL has to be created. In Canada, children start playing hockey when they start entering public school. It gets into the blood at an early age. That has to happen in the United States more often, for hockey to rise status and be considered one of “America’s games”.