Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 12: More Garbage On The Way From The Good Ol’ USA

In my last article in this series, I told about the panel that comes with Windows 10 that lists articles of contemporary news. And I mentioned that the sports section seldom carries any hockey stories. Right now with Seattle getting a new franchise and Houston possibly the next one, you read nothing about it. At the midpoint of the NHL season, there is nothing about scoring leaders, injuries, individual teams, or any feats that occurred during the previous night’s games.

Today in the sports section with nearly 30 articles listed, there was only one about hockey, that the Colorado Avalanche now had a ten game winning streak. Ah but don’t despair hockey lovers, I discovered one more article on the panel, this time in the entertainment section. With all the important developments and games occurring in the NHL and elsewhere, what’s the most important thing about hockey that the American media feels is necessary for fans to know? How many of you guessed that what is most important to American fans is that network television wants to bring back the Mighty Ducks of movie fame in a weekly television series.

Yes that American mythical sports monument to American hip hip hooray jingoism is being considered as a weekly sitcom. What’s next, the Bad News Bears as a miniseries? I have never seen a Mighty Ducks movie but I have read the several reviews in Canadian newspapers to get the picture. It’s always the same. Those lovable Ducks take on some villainous European team, probably Russia and win the World Championship. Canada always manages to get defeated off camera by either Russia or some other villainous European team, so it is up to the Ducks to save the world. To this date, the Ducks have yet to play a Canadian team. Disney, the creator of the Ducks doesn’t want to offend and lose the Canadian market.

Meanwhile what goes on in reality? Most of the top American players that play in the NHL or internationally got their junior development by playing in the CHL, Canada’s top junior league that has a few American franchises near the Canadian border. Both American and European boys are anxious to get into the CHL which probably has the best junior development program in the world. If an American or European boy does well in the league that has most of Canada’s top juniors, it is almost a certain ticket that he will become a high NHL draft choice. As my colleague on this blog, Sam Happi will tell you, many of the top juniors for next year’s NHL draft are Europeans playing on Canadian or American franchises in the CHL.

Just what does an American or European boy have to go through? Most likely he will be taken in by a Canadian family in the Canadian town he plays for and try to fit into a strange environment with the new “foster family” that is sponsoring him. He will have to go to a Canadian high school to make sure his education is up to stuff. He will learn about a country’s history he is unfamiliar with, learn about its culture, and in many cases have to learn one if not two languages, English and French.

It probably hasn’t occurred to the potential revivers of the Mighty Ducks that the vast majority of Canadians live close to the American border and are bound to see this American “patriotic” sports comedy on American television. Are the Ducks going to finally play a Canadian team? If so, how are Canadians going to react if they are portrayed as the “bad guys”? And will the Ducks defeat them or will the game diplomatically end in a tie? If the Ducks win and are acclaimed the best in the world, how does this match up to reality in which the United States finished third at the recent World Junior Championship (though they did beat Canada in a game decided by a shoot-out) and even worse, lost every game at the revived World Cup which Canada won? Such a television series is bound to be treated with mild amusement at best by Canadians, more likely with scorn and ridicule, if not worse.

More importantly, how is this type of thing going to help American boys coming to Canada to learn skills in the CHL, who just want to fit in and be friends, to get along with and be part of their new foster family? The last thing these boys need is an American hockey television series in which the Americans lord it down on everybody else. These boys are coming to Canada to learn, to be friends with their new Canadian family and their Canadian and European teammates. They don’t need this kind of embarrassment. But this is typical of a country where the teams that win in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are proclaimed “World” Champions even though there are only two international teams, both located in Toronto that compete for the top trophy. The NHL does it too, but in more recent decades with the influx of American and European players, the term “Stanley Cup Champions” instead of “World Champions” is preferred.

Bringing back the Ducks won’t help the NHL or its commissioner, Gary Bettman either. Bettman has a bad image in Canada where he is unfairly perceived to lead a gang of American owners who pursue “anti-Canadian” policies. It’s a false myth, encouraged by the owners of the NHL’s Canadian franchises who have repeatedly thwarted attempts to place more Canadian franchises in the NHL. Cooking up this anti-Canadian myth gets them off the hook. Bringing back the Ducks is only going to encourage this myth. This is the last thing Bettman needs.

The Duck myth only emphasizes the low status of the NHL and hockey in the United States. Why doesn’t American television make up a sitcom about football and basketball instead of hockey? Because they can get away with it better if they choose low-status, fourth-ranked hockey. Actually a more intelligent television series would be one about an American boy coming to Canada to learn hockey skills and then trying fit in with his new hockey foster family and a strange environment. Or if it must be a sitcom, showing these problems in a humorous way.

Instead American television wants to bring back a stupid piece of “patriotic” rubbish that bears no relation to reality and has the potential to make relations between Americans living abroad in Canada decidedly uncomfortable. And American hockey can do better to correct its recent sinking ship than to spend time spewing out unrealistic sports propaganda that is only going to bring contempt and ridicule to America. This week, the NHL has its All Star game in Tampa Bay. There is nothing reported on the panel about it. There are no articles about the success of the new franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing about the problems of the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes. Nothing about the current injuries in the NHL. Nothing about the New York Islanders building a new arena. Nothing about anything important in hockey. But the Mighty Ducks might be coming back. That’s all that matters.

 

2018 World Junior Championships All Too Predictable

No need for the late Nostradamus and Paul the Octopus to appear at the recent World Junior Championships. Anyone with reasonable knowledge of World Junior hockey could have shown up and done a good job with predictions:

1. Belarus lost every game was demoted. Predictable

2. Their regulation opponent would be either Denmark or Switzerland. In this case Denmark. Predictable

3. The third worst team in the tournament would either be Denmark or Switzerland. This time it was Switzerland. Predictable

4. The only excitement of the first round was how the “Big 7″ teams would be seeded for the second round. Predictable

5. There would be zero or one token upset game. There was only one when Slovakia beat the United States. Predictable

6. There would be the usual slaughters like 8-0. 9-0. 7-2, 8-2, 6-1. And if you guessed that the losing teams were Denmark, Belarus, Switzerland, and Slovakia you would be right again. Predictable

It would have been nice to report about the return of Czech Republic hockey to respectability but alas that is not possible, not after playoff round scores of 7-2 by Canada and then 9-3 by the United States. The only element of unpredictability was who would win among Canada, Sweden, and the United States. If you are cheering for those countries, it’s great, but if you want international hockey to grow in prestige, it’s a disaster. It’s been over four decades since Canada-USSR in 1972 and international hockey at the men’s, women’s and junior levels has not grown one inch. So much for the boasts back then that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. The main reason for the lack of growth is that nobody has done anything to raise the quality of play outside of the traditional “Big 7″ countries.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indirectly recognized the problem when he revived the World Cup and then created hybrid teams, Team North America and Team Europe. He did not want any embarrassing scores in his tournament like those listed above. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. During the tournament and at the revived NHL regular season games in Europe between Ottawa and Colorado, Bettman gave a lot of tantalizing proposals for developing hockey internationally but about the main problem that is holding its growth back, he said not one thing.

He did mention the usual thing that has happened during the past four decades. Boston and Los Angeles would hold a few random clinics in China. Every little bit helps but what is laughable is that when last I looked, China was ranked 37th of the approximately 50 countries that play international hockey. But China is the biggest market in the world with over one billion people which the NHL would like to exploit. It is money, not the good of the game that is doing the talking. Hosting a few clinics in China and then letting Los Angeles and Vancouver play exhibition games there does nothing for the game now.

Meanwhile there is a huge glut of countries, now joined by South Korea that has been stuck at the “B Level” level of hockey quality below the “Big 7″ since before 1972. This group includes Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Norway, and Hungary. Raising up the quality of play from as many members of this group can help international hockey right now. Bettman should have another good reason for doing something at last. He probably intends the NHL to grow to 40 teams before he retires and each time he adds a new franchise, the critics say that the league is getting watered down. That wouldn’t happen if the quality of play in the 14 “B” countries were raised to the level of the “Big 7″. He would have a huge glut of top talent to draw from, enough to stock 48 teams, not just 40.

While all this is going on in the World Cup of hockey, what is happening to its counterpart, in the World Cup of soccer? Well first of all, the World Cup is expanding from 32 teams to 48. That’s probably too much to expect from hockey but surely it is not unreasonable to turn the World Cup, the World Championship, the Olympics, the World Women’s Championship and the World Junior Championship into 16 team tournaments played by “Big 16″ or even “Big 20″ teams instead of a measly “Big 7″. In 2010, during the World Cup, two teams, Spain and the Netherlands that had never won the Cup, predicted accurately by Paul, made it to the Final. Fat chance of that happening in any tournament of international hockey. Paul would only have to scratch his head with a tentacle, yawn, go to sleep, and leave the predicting to amateurs.

There are two writers on this blog, SamHappi and Alson Lee who specialize in writing about developing players in the junior level who could become high draft picks for the NHL. SamHappi’s overwhelming choice, based on the World Junior Championship is Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden. Since I don’t know any better, I’ll go along with him. But it is highly probable that SamHappi never saw the best junior player because the best possible player was stuck playing in the Division 1A, or 1B levels of junior competition, undeveloped, his potential unrealized. As I wrote in an article on this blog, there is a huge glut of lost hockey talent not being developed because nobody can be bothered to raise the standard of play. The European Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky could have come and gone.

There is an article on this blog written by Alson long before I joined, that is still popular, about why goaltender Benjamin Conz was never drafted into the NHL. In that same article I wrote, I was able to provide at least a partial if not total answer. Conz is a Swiss goaltender so it is likely that nobody knew about him. “European scouting” probably means that an NHL European scout spends 90% of his time scouting in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, 7% of his time in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, and the remainder elsewhere. There is no need to scout outside those countries when everybody knows that the standard of play is much lower.

And as long as nobody can be bothered to do anything, this will continue. No hockey tournament will start to gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until the core base of international hockey is widened. If it was widened to where it could be, SamHappi and Alson probably couldn’t handle all the articles that could be written and be forced to specialize. Until that happens, expect to see more of the same in Victoria and Vancouver next year in 2019. Next year, Kazakhstan gets promoted in place of Belarus with a chance to go 0-4 in the preliminary round. See, I’ve made my first prediction already.