August 30th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

After the shortest offseason in the North American sports calendar, the puck will finally drop this afternoon on the second edition of the World Cup of Hockey. Instead of piling through all of the previews, just read this piece by’s Scott Burnside, and you’ll be ready to go.

As you might guess, Canada is the prohibitive favorite (with revenge on the U.S. from 1996 on their minds), with the U.S. (with revenge on Canada for Salt Lake City on their minds) and Sweden (with a monkey called Belarus still on their backs) not terribly far behind. Truth be told, just about every team in the eight-strong field, with the exception of Germany, has a realistic shot of making it to the one-game final in Toronto on September 14th.

The festivites open in just about an hour, as the Czech Republic, still hurting over the death of head coach Ivan Hlinka, takes on Finland in Helsinki (1:00 p.m. U.S. EDT). Finland’s top line from the Nagano Olympics, Saku Koivu centering Jere Lehtinen and Teemu Selanne, will be reunited for today’s game, which, like all the other games in European pool play, will be played using NHL rules on an international ice sheet.

In news sure to send our buddy Jes Golbez into apoplexy, Slovakia’s Peter Bondra broke his wrist in the second period of an exhibition against the Canada on Saturday, and will be lost for the tournament. In happier news, the Slovakians have looked strong in net, with Rastislav Stana stopping 29 of 31 shots in Saturday’s 2-2 tie with Canada, and the heretofore unknown Jan Lasak stopping 35 shots in a 0-0 tie with the Russians on Sunday.

In fact, if you’re looking for a sleeper team in the tournament, it would have to be Slovakia, which is packing some serious firepower even in the absence of Bondra. It makes one wonder just what sort of damage they could really do had they been placed in the European (where they would play on international ice sheets), rather than the North American pool.

With a format like this one, predicting the two teams who will make the final can be tough. Suffice to say, I’m sticking to my statement that seven of the eight squads actually have a realistic shot of getting to the finals, with Canada and Sweden my two favorites to win it all. The U.S. has an honest shot, but only if Robert Esche (who has performed the best out of Team USA’s three goalies), takes his game to a level he hasn’t attained previously.

As I’ve said before, I’ll be in Montreal this week for Tuesday’s USA-Canada game, as well as Wednesday’s Canada-Slovakia match. I’ll try to blog about the games from the road, but something tells me I’ll be hitting the town pretty hard with one of my readers. On Saturday, I’ll be off to Olympic Stadium for the Expos-Braves game with Off Wing reader Jay Sokoloff. Again, if you’re going to be in Montreal this week, drop me a line, as I’ll be looking for the best sports bar in town to watch the rest of the Cup.

UPDATE: Ohhh, I really like this line:

One key difference from the NHL is the depth available to Team USA coach Ron Wilson. His fourth line — Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern and Blake figure to fill that role — would be a solid No. 2 unit on most NHL teams.

With a dozen or so quality forwards at his disposal, Wilson shouldn’t be tempted to drain the energy reserves of his key veterans by using them too much, although a series of injuries on defense could increase the workloads for veterans such as Chelios and Brian Leetch.

Solid No. 2 unit indeed (imagine what it would look like with Conroy at center instead of Halpern). Two seasons ago, Halpern and Konowalchuk formed two-thirds of a line with Ulf Dhalen that regularly shut down the league’s best units when the duo played together here in Washington (something Wilson undoubtedly recalls from his time here behind the bench).

With his immense wing span, Dhalen simply played keep away with the puck, but I still like Blake’s speed and scoring punch on the opposite wing. Here’s hoping he plays a little more disciplined, as his tendency to play firewagon hockey has sometimes left him out of position, and his teammates in trouble.

Primary assist to Steve Ovadia.

Jordon Cooper isn’t liking the whole World Cup thing. The Bird, on the other hand, is getting his jingo on. Jeff and Alanah are back too.

5 Responses to “World Cup Notebook”

  1. Colby Cosh says:

    I don’t know if Slovakia can still be considered a “sleeper” after their 2002 World Championship gold medal… with the kind of talent they produce up front, and two of the five best defencemen on the planet in Chara and Visnovsky, they’ve got to be considered the #3 hockey nation if their goaltending is remotely credible.

  2. Ben says:

    I’m tempted to put Slavakia third behind Canada and Sweden. Goaltending is the real wild card given that Canada is the only country with a top quality guy between the pipes aside from Finland who lack in other areas (although they looked great against a lethargic Czech team in their 4-0 win today). The Czechs and Russians could end up being the bottom-feeders with Germany if they aren’t careful.

  3. Ninja says:

    Joe T, I’m not sure if you and Larry Brooks agree on a regular basis, but his column today might open your eyes on the CBA issue.

  4. PJ says:

    So according to Larry Brooks, each of the 6 proposals was a salary cap because he says so?

    His CBA columns are almost as factually accurate as his trade rumors.

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August 27th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

With Hal Gill lost for the remainder of the tournament, Team USA added Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles to the roster. Taking a look at this bio, it’s easy to see how you could call the Indiana native a younger and healthier version of the since-departed Matt Schnieder.

At Fox Sports, Kara Yorio takes a look at Team USA. Click here for an entertaining look at the Canada Cup/World Cup, including this story from 1981, when the hosts weren’t exactly willing to let the Russians leave with the trophy:

When NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson wouldn’t allow the Soviets to take home the distinctive silver trophy, they stuck it in a bag and tried to sneak it onto their bus. Eagleson intervened. Punches were thrown. Eagleson insisted that the trophy had to be won three times before it could become the property of the winner, and he got his way.

Team Canada is experimenting with Mario Lemieux playing left wing on a line with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla.

In an exhibition in Helsinki, Finland defeated Germany 4-2, as Oli Jokinen scored twice for the hosts.

Doug Weight has a new post in his World Cup Diary at USA Hockey.

This year’s Cup boasts nine alumni of the ECHL. And don’t miss another Slovakian-centric update from Jes Golbez.

One Response to “World Cup Notebook”

  1. Ben says:

    Back when you asked who should have been taken instead of Gill I recal that there were a bunch of responses. If I remember correctly (I haven’t bothered to go back and check the comments) Liles, Martin and Weinrich were all suggested by various readers. Maybe Team USA management reads Offwing. Either that or you’ve got some smart readers.

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August 26th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

In Ottawa, Team Canada defeated the U.S., 3-1 in the second of two exhibition games, with Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Sakic and Brad Richards scoring in the second period to salt away the win. Edmonton’s Ty Conklin yielded all three Canadian goals, something that won’t help him in his effort to win the starting job for Team USA.

After missing the first exhibition against Team USA, Mario Lemieux picked up an assist, and looked to be skating without any ill-effects, at least according to the Canadian Press. But the Globe and Mail said Super Mario has “some ways to go,” to reach his old form. The news isn’t so good for Boston’s Hal Gill, who broke his foot in the second period after blocking a shot, knocking him from the tournament.

Gill’s injury leaves Team USA with only six defensemen (Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin, Aaron Miller and Eric Weinrich). Then again, according to my readers, Team USA shouldn’t be too disappointed about Gill’s departure. Click here for that raucous discussion, as well as some pointers for Team USA head coach Ron Wilson as he seeks a replacement for the lumbering defenseman.

Elsewhere in Ottawa, labor and management met for five hours concerning the CBA, and the NHLPA took some time to brief the members of Team USA. Team Canada gets their briefing today.

Team Canada is auctioning its practice jerseys for charity. Click here for your shot at Jay Boumeester’s sweater.

In Stockholm, Sweden defeated Finland 2-1 on an OT goal by Markus Naslund. Meanwhile, the Rodent is perplexed over all the attention his photo of Jiri Fischer going to town on Aki Berg has attracted.

Thanks to PJ on these great photos of the Czech Republic vs. Germany exhibition.

CORRECTION: There were no errors in the story on the 1996 World Cup that Jes Golbezquoted from today. The mistake was mine, and mine alone, and has taught me a little humility. Apologies to Jes, and Jesse Ursulak, the original author of the article.

That’s what happens when you rely on memory, and not the record.

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August 25th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

Team USA suffered its first on-ice casualty as defenseman Jordan Leopold sustained a concussion in Monday night’s 3-1 win over Canada in Columbus. He’ll be replaced in the lineup by Paul Martin, who just completed his rookie season with the Devils. Over in Europe, Martin Skoula will take the place of Frantisek Kaberle for the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, back in Team Canada training camp, Jose Theodore gave up all five goals in an intra-squad scrimmage. Theodore shared goalie duties with presumed starter Martin Brodeur in the Red/White scrimmage.

Even though he sat out Monday’s game against the U.S., Mario Lemieux is looking good in practice, at least according to Brad Richards. TSN’s Lisa Burke-Wallace is in the Team Canada camp, and you can find her archive of stories here.

Canada plays the U.S. in another exhibition tonight in Ottawa. Looks like the only coverage in North America will be on Leafs TV. William Houston of the Toronto Globe and Mail had this to say about Monday night’s clash between the two North American powers:

The first exhibition game, won 3-1 by the United States on Monday, illustrated how much faster and larger today’s players are and how inadequate the narrow NHL ice surface is in showcasing their talent.

On the narrow ice and at the highest level of competition, the players have neither the time nor the space to hold the puck and put on a show. It’s pinball hockey.

Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. Here’s a fun Canada Cup/World Cup timeline from the IIHF.

Only four days to go till the opening game of European pool play, click here for the remainder of the exhibition schedule.

Gretzky speaks, but don’t think it’s going to be the last time.

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August 24th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

With Mario Lemieux scratched from the lineup, Canada fell to Team USA 3-1 last night in a pre-tournament match before a sparse crowd in Columbus. From the TSN account of the game, it looks like American head coach Ron Wilson is going to employ an aggressive forecheck against a young Canadian defense — something which seemed to cause some real problems on the blue line last night.

Other issues to consider: while there isn’t any question that Martin Brodeur will start in goal for Canada, we still don’t know who will be between the pipes for Team USA. Wilson has to choose between Edmonton’s Ty Conklin, Philly’s Robert Esche and Rick DiPietro of the Islanders — and he isn’t giving away any hints as to who the winner of the pre-season competition might be. After Conklin yielded a goal to Canada’s Dany Heatley in the first period, DiPietro shut down Canada for the rest of the way, including a stretch of 12:22 in the third period where they didn’t record a single shot on goal.

What does it mean? Very little, I’m afraid. I’m sure Team Canada head coach Pat Quinn hasn’t shown all of his cards as of yet, and with the tournament adopting the same lowest common denominator format as the Winter Olympics, nothing will really matter until we get to the medal round. Another minor peeve: I can’t seem to find the boxscore for the game, and the folks at have neglected to give this exhibition the full-on treatment even the most insignificant regular season game can expect.

Then again, just because the game didn’t get the attention it deserved, doesn’t mean the teams didn’t take it seriously (registration required, click here for the workaround):

I think there

2 Responses to “World Cup Notebook”

  1. Nick says:

    Aye caramba, Eric! You sure we WANT the details? :)

  2. Rick says:

    I hardly call attendance of 14,871 a “sparse crowd,” for an exhibition game that we were charged full price for. The arena was rockin’, and there was a large Canadian contingent in attendance.

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August 13th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

In response to my assessment of Team USA’s chances at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, long-time reader Charles Tupper, Jr. had this to say:

Eric, where do you get this notion that the US National Program is in poor shape?

Restructured in ’96, won the under 18 world’s in ’02 and the world’s in’04. This is a helluva program considering hockey in the US ranks way down the list. When did the last Canadian team win the World Juniors tourney? Five, seven years ago? Instead of making the World’s a showcase for old fogies from the NHL retirement home why not allow the the US Juniors, World Champs 2004, to play. Why not let Parise and Montoya show their stuff. It worked in 1980, and this 2004 USA Junior team has far more talent than the Miracle squad.

To be fair, I didn’t say that the U.S. National program was a disaster, I just said that the next generation of talent in the U.S. has yet to emerge at the NHL level.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Zach Parise (and may Mike Milbury suffer the consequences one day for not drafting him) and Montoya, but they’re not ready for this kind of stage. Not yet anyway.

What I would like to see, is more players like Scott Gomez and Jordan Leopold on the roster, rather than Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios. When Canada loses players like Rob Blake and Steve Yzerman, they get credibly replaced by younger players who are clearly emerging stars and have gotten it done at the NHL level one way or another.

If Leetch or Chelios went down tomorrow, who would replace them? I’m having a tough time thinking of names off the top of my head.

Then again, there’s more than a whiff of romance in Charles’ idea to send a bunch of swift-skating kids up against the world’s toughest professionals. It would be something to see.

In tournament roster news, Mathieu Schneider informed Team USA he was withdrawing from the tournament, and he was replaced on the roster by Boston’s Hal Gill — a move that makes the American blue line both younger and tougher.

Think of it this way: who would you rather see battling Joe Thornton and Vincent Lacavalier down low in front of Team USA’s net: the 5’10″ 192 pound Schneider, or the 6’7″ 250 pound Gill?

For those of you catching up, On The Wings has a great roundup of all the player movement before the tournament, including the news that Sergei Fedorov, Alexi Zhamnov and Valeri Bure have all refused to play for the Russians — essentially wiping out any chance they had of winning the tournament.

UPDATE: Looks like I need to watch more Bruins games on NHL Center Ice. Here’s Hockeybird on Hal Gill:

[T]he news that Schneider will be replaced by lumbering oaf Hal Gill. In a tournament that will have a lot to do with speed and quickness, Hal Gill will probably look like a pylon out there. Canada may be a physical team, but the other six aren’t.

Some points: This sort of analysis (and the comments from Ben and Jes below) lends some credence to Charles’ idea from above — that the U.S. would be better off sending a reasonable facsimilie of its World Juniors squad instead of the gaggle of fogies who are on their way to the World Cup.

But it also brings me back to my original point — the decided lack of emerging young NHL stars on Team USA’s roster. With Schneider gone, who else could Ron Wilson and his staff reasonably recruit for the cause.

I’m left without any answers. If Gill is substandard, who would be a better pick?

16 Responses to “World Cup Notebook”

  1. Jes Gőlbez says:

    I’d rather have Matt Schneider, who Joe Thornton and Prince vince can’t possibly just skate around and look like a pylon.

    Hal Gill? Well, it’s better for Canada :)

  2. Ben says:

    Hal Gill is quite possibly the greatest waste of size in the NHL and I say that as a Bruins fan. How good of a defenseman is he? He finished seventh on the Bruins in average time on ice behind Nick Boynton, Dan McGillis, Jiri Slegr, Sergei Gonchar, Sean O’Donnell and Ian Moran. Ouch.

  3. Ben says:

    Seventh for defensemen that is. He was beaten by a few forwards as well.

  4. Joe T. says:

    Ben’s right on here. As a New Englander, I have the privelage of watching Hal Gill’s lack of mobility work to the advantage of smaller, quicker opponents quite often. Saku Koivu really made him look silly at times during their playoff series.

  5. Ben says:

    So who should Wilson take instead? Tough question considering how weak the US is at the position but my first two picks would Sean Hill (who I’ve always liked) and John-Michael Liles who was outstanding as a stay at home defender with Colorado last year. Paul Martin was another solid rookie defenseman who happened to get more ice-time than Gill while playng with the defensively minded Devils. Liles and Martin might not be ready for the World Cup spotlight yet but I’d still take them over Gill.

  6. PJ says:

    Can’t we dangle citizenship in front of a few Canadian d-men?

  7. Charlie says:

    Mark Eaton!! The guy is solid and has a touch of speed. While he is not the most physical his positional play is superb.

  8. Charles Tupper says:

    IMO, these kids are ready to go and instead of reproducing the feeble display by the US defence in ’02 at Salt Lake City again, where the Canucks, (who were lucky to get to the Gold medal match) nullified their transitional game by dumping and running oldsters like Chelios, let the kids play. Why care about Leetch and Chelios? The great thing about the American game, IMO, unlike its Canadian counterpart, is that it still is able to produce remarkable talent outside the NHL hegemony.

    As Tarasov said about the Canadian game, “Where are your philosophers?”

    To a great extent it’s still true, however the US program allows room to develop a different approach, a high speed, fast transitioning counter-attack game that people allegedly want to see. It may not boost
    attendance at NHL arenas however from a pure love of the game perspective it’s truly great to watch. Can
    you imagine the excitement generated in US hockey
    markets seeing, once again, the US college David
    facing, this time, the NHL Goliath.

    Oooh, it’s goose-bump time.

    Last point Eric, why in the world will you be travelling to Montreal to view these matches. Especially after the digraceful, despicable, reprehensible behaviour shown those kids on the Brocton Boxers from Boston, in April 2003, who travelled all the way to Frogtown for a friendly game of puck just to be given the finger and see their flag burnt. Disagreement about the war is one thing but to treat your guests in this manner is inexcusable.

  9. Ben says:

    The irony of you writing a comment filled with digs against Canada while having the same name as a Canadian father of confederation is just hilarious.

    Canada beat everyone they needed to beat to get to the final and win the gold in 2002. I hardly call that luck.

    Personally I’d take the hegemonic NHL talent that Canada has produced over the last five years over that of any other country in a heartbeat. Lecavalier, Richards, Heatley, Nash, Horton, Bowmeester, Bergeron, Raycroft, Ryder, Staal, Luongo. Nope, nothing remarkable about that lot. And we’ve got this kid named Sidney coming up through the ranks who’s going to be one hell of a philosopher.

    As for that incident in 2003, you’re right, it was inexcusable. It was also an isolated incident over a year ago and I don’t know any Canadian that condoned it. All it showed is that Canadians are free to be jackasses just like Americans are. Incidentally that same team was invited back to Canada this year and was hosted by a team in St Stephen, NB who felt horrible about how the team had been treated in Montreal.

  10. Charles Tupper says:

    Canada barely gets by the Finns 2-1 and do not face the Swedes who kicked their ass the first time around; Vladimir Kopat scores on a 70-foot shot that bounced wildly off goalie Tommy Salo’s head with only 2:24 remaining and Belarus scores one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, beating Sweden 4-3 in the hockey quarterfinal and you don’t call that lucky?

    Five of the last seven years a European wins the Art Ross. In the last ten years five Europeans win the Hart. Six of the top ten point getters in 03-04 are European. In 00-01 seven of top ten are Euros. Five of top ten in 01-02 are Euros and an American. Five of ten again in 02-03 are Euros. For the first time ever two Rooskies, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin go 1-2 in the June draft. Canada has not won a World Junior Championship since 1997. Canada has over 400,000 boys playing minor hockey, 2.5 times the number of Europeans including the Russians. The Euros produce almost 3 times per capita as many elite players as Canada does. If Canadian hockey produced elite players at the same rate as Europe there would be no Euros or Americans in the NHL.

    What exactly is remarkable about the bunch you mention? Is there an Art Ross or a Hart or a Norris trophy winner amongst them?

    Are you suggesting that Sidney Crosby will bring the same kind of innovation to this game as Tarasov or Tommy Watt, Freddie Shero or Roger Neilson? Don’t make us laugh.

    Being free to act like jackasses is one thing but treating twelve-year-olds like that, especially when they are there at your invitation makes you just scum.

  11. Ben says:

    Was Canada fortunate that they didn’t have to play Sweden again? Of course. Could they have beaten them if they had to? We’ll never know. Like I said, they beat everyone they had to to win the gold and that’s all that’s required.

    Five of the last seven years a European wins the Art Ross. Yes. two of the last three years a Canadian won it. Fourteen of the last twenty years a Canadian won it. It all depends what kind of time frame you want to look at.

    Five of the top eleven (three players tied for ninth) point getters in 2003-04 were Canadian. No other single nation can make that claim. the same can be said for the other years you list. I don’t see anything wrong with Canada contributing half of the top ten scorers in any given year. Pointing out that once in the history of the NHL draft two Russians went first and second hardly seems like an indictment of the Canadian game to me.

    It’s true that Canada hasn’t won a gold medal at the World Juniors since 1997 but they’ve won eleven medals over the last twelve years, more than any other country, and five of those eleven were gold. We’ve also won back-to-back World Championships, going undefeated this year. I see you forgot to mention that.

    Saying the Europeans produce 3 times per capita the number of elite players as Canada is meaningless unless you define elite. I would define elite as anyone able to make a living playing hockey in which case you have to look at the NHL AHL, IHL, ECHL and the European leagues that are partially stocked with Canadian players and coaches.

    Some would argue that the hardest and most prestigious individual award an NHL player can win is the Conn Smythe. Over its thirty-nine year history it has been won by a Canadian thirty-seven times including nine of the last ten times.

    What’s remarkable about the group I mentioned?

    Andrew Raycoft- Calder Trophy winner
    Dany Heatley- First overall draft pick, Calder Trophy winner, World Championship MVP
    Vincent Lecavalier- First overall draft pick and good enough to replace Steve Yzerman on Team Canada
    Brad Richards- Conn Smythe and Lady Byng Trophy recipient and record holder for game-winning goals in the playoffs.
    Rick Nash- Maurice Richard Trophy winner at the age of 19.
    Michael Ryder- could have won the Calder Trophy, finished first in rookie scoring.
    Patrice Bergeron- went from playing Junior B hockey in Quebec to being a key player on the Bruins as a rookie in less than two years.
    Roberto Luongo- Vezina finalist, Team Canada backup goalie, record holder for saves in a single season, Vezina finalist
    Horton, Staal and Bowmeester- all top three draft choices with less than a full year of NHL experience. All Three will be impact players in the future.

    You wanted to know what remarkable talent Canada has produced lately. There it is. No, there isn’t an Art Ross, Hart or Norris Trophy winner among them. Not yet, because rarely are any of those awards won by players under the age of 25. My group does include winners of two Calders, a Lady Byng, a Conn Smythe, a Maurice Richard trophy and finalists for various other awards. If that’s not remarkable i your eyes you had best give me a definition of what is.

    If by philosophers you mean innovative coaches, Canada has produced plenty. Will any of the young coaches produce the same kind of innovation as Tarasov, Watt, Shero or Neilson? If it was the same it wouldn’t be innovation would it? I’m not sure that there have been any truly innovative coaches that have changed the NHL game in the last few years (unless you want to count the implementation of the trap, popularized by a Canadian). That’s hardly a knock against Canada alone.

    As for the Montreal incident, yes, it was reprehensible. I’ve given you that. But I don’t hold the actions of a few against a city of millions.

  12. Charles Tupper says:

    Europeans did not start entering the NHL in any number until after ’92 so going back 20 years when the NHL was 95% Canadian is indicative of the decline of Canadian influenceover the last ten years. Europeans represent ~30% of the NHL players yet they consistently place 50-70% of scorers in the top ten. They are way over-represented. Canada places 30-50% in the top ten which is an abysmal stat considering 60% of the NHL are Canadians.

    If the Yankees had not won a WS since 1997, do you think people would say there is something wrong? You want to talk World Championships, just look at the list. In the last twenty years Canada has won four. Wow a real hockey power!

    NHL is the elite league. The best or most skilled members of a group. Everything else is the penultimate.

    Let’s look at the Calder. Since 1990 five Canucks have won the rookie of the year. Seven Euros and three Americans. Canucks are 60% of the NHL (higher in the early 90s) but have only won 30% of the rookie awards since the Euros started to arrive in force. And you really believe there is nothing wrong with the Canadian game?

    Howe wins the Hart in ’52 at 24. Jean Beliveau wins the Hart in ’56 at 25. Orr wins it in 1970 at 22. Case closed.

    Swede Matts Waltin has been experimenting with the torpedo for a number of years now however it’s really nothing new…it owes much, if not all, to the Russians

  13. Ben says:

    Wow, where to start.

    If this discussions were being judged by the rules of forensic or parliamentary debate you would have just lost.

    One of your points is that Canada is losing its influence and not producing elite talent anymore. You just stated that “NHL is the elite league. The best or most skilled members of a group. Everything else is the penultimate” right after saying that 60% of the NHL is comprised of Canadians. By your own definition of elite 60% of the elite hockey players in the world are Canadian. That’s hardly a lack of production or influence.

    I said the Hart, Art Ross and Norris trophies are rarely won by players under 25. You came back by saying Beliveau won the Hart at 25 in ’56. It’s interesting that you went back that far to find someone that young that won it when you could have just gone back to 2002 when a 25 year old Jose Theodre (a remarkable Canadian player) won the Hart and Vezina. Another point you would have lost on, not to mentin that you’ve done nothing to convince me that the group of players whos credentials I’ve listed are anything less than remarkable. Simply saying none of them have won the Hart or Art Ross doesn’t cut it. From 1980 to 1987 Wayne Gretzky was the only player to win the Hart Trophy. Does that mean he was the only remarkable player in the NHL. I think not. Again, by all debating standards I’m familiar with you would have lost this point for not clearly rebutting my point that there is a solid group of young Canadian players in the NHL today.

    Finally, on the issue of Canada’s lagging percentage of players in the Top 10 in scoring and their lack of major tournament wins, I have several comments. First of all, you’re pitting Canada against Europe and Russia as a group. You cannot find one country who has finished as highly in Canada in each major world hockey tournament as Canada over the last 10 years. As a group, yes, Europe and Russia have more wins and medals than Canada. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the combined national programs of 5 countries have had more combined success than one Canadian national program which has limited funding and doesn’t have a standing national team. That Canada can consistently put together a team, practice as a group for two weeks and thenn compete for a medal in almost every tournament they enter is much more impressive than you give credit for. Yes, it’s a problem when the Yankees go 7 years without a Championship. And to fix it they throw more money at the probelm. Hockey Canada doesn’t have that option. It is a sore spot in Canada that we’ve come back from the World Juniors without the gold for seven years but we have the sense to know as long as we keep producing players like Nash, Heatley, Richards, Luongo, etc we’re still doing somthing right.

    Finally, I think you have to consider why the percentage of Canadians in the NHL is as high as it is and why that percentage has dropped. The pre-90′s NHL was stocked with mostly Canadians because a) we had been developing hockey players for decades and had a headstart and b) eastern Europeans didn’t have the option of going to the NHL without the dangerous task of defecting. Now that Europe has opened up more Europeans have come over limiting the number of Canadians. When there are 5 top notch hockey powers in Europe developing players it’s unreasonable to expect Canada to match their production. Furthermore, I think the percentage of Canadian players has only stayed as high as it is because Canada is a cheap and easy source of third and fourth line players. Most NHL coaches and managers have Canadian roots and easy access to information on Canadian junior players. Why go to Europe to scout a third or fourth line player when you can easilyfind one through your contacts in Canada? In short, I think you’ve overestimated the influence of Canadian hockey players in the past and underestimated their value and talent now. That being said no single other nation consistently competes at the same level as Canada year after year. Despite the similarities in total numbers of players at the minor hockey level I think it’s unreasonable to compare Canada to a continent’s worth of European programs.

    I’ll concede the coaching points, partly because I think you’re probably right and partly because you’re clearly far more knowledgable than I when it comes to coaches and coaching techniques of the past and present. It’s not an area of hockey I pay much attention to to be honest.

    We’ll probably have to agree to disagree on most of this stuff but the discussion has been fun. It would be nice to see what other people think but I suspect this
    debate has moved too far down the page for most people to notice it anymore.

  14. Charles Tupper says:

    Canada has 2.5 times as many boys playing hockey as all of Europe yet only produces 60% of the talent at the elite level. Why? When the CBA is finally resolved look for a team reduction to about 28, maybe more. Will Canadians still be 60% of NHL players? Bet you dollars to donuts that as the league retracts under the weight of its self-imposed fiscal imbalance look for a big loss in Canadian content. The only salvation for Canadian players is that an independent NHL study shows fans come to see the fights not the scoring.

    Actually Beliveau was 24 going on 25. Howe, (interesting how you fail to mention the great Anglos in the game) was 23 turning 24 at the end of March ’52. And of course the wondrous Robert Gordon Orr was only 22. Do you suggest Bouwmeester, Heatly and Lecavalier are in the same class as Orr or Howe? Such a notion can only be described as ‘invincible ignorance.’ The Hart trophy is awarded to the most valuable player and when Canadian hockey was at its pinnacle the greatest and most valuable players were under 25. Your group pales in comparison to the young talent of the fifties and sixties.

    Gretzky is way overrated and so are the eighties. However, that’s a subject for another time. It is interesting to note that Gretzky’s last Hart was in ’89 with LA. After the Euros arrived his production fell remarkably whereas Howe won another Hart in 1960 and again in 1963. The eighties were the weakest period of NHL hockey since WW2. It was an unremarkable time with unremarkable players posting highly inflated stats because of expansion.

    The issues of a national programme, made relevant by Father David Bauer in the 60s, are well known. The NHL had no interest then or now to rectify the inadequacies. Ask yourself why the Euros simply walked into NHL jobs outing Canadians whose skills had been developed in this vaunted programme producing elite players for decades? Simply put they were clearly better players. It is not unreasonable to expect Canada to match European production. The simple fact is that they choose not to try. Again, it’s not a continent of players there are~400,000 Canadian boys playing hockey as compared to ~160,000 Europeans. How many indoor rinks are in Russia or the Czech Republic or Slovakia? The percentage of Canucks has only stayed at this level because of constant expansion.

    Finally, the US recognized a weakness in their hockey program and in less than ten years produced a World Junior champion. When will Canada wake-up?. Probably. like Britsh soccer, when most of the NHL players are foreign nationals.

  15. Ben says:

    Sure, Canada has 400,000 boys in minor hockey. Of those 400,000 how many play in recreational leagues? Most. Beleive it or not the role of hockey in Canada isn’t purely to produce the next Howe or Orr, neither of whom was the player they were because of the Canadian system. No matter how many kids we have playing rec hockey in Canada there are still only 20 odd spots on the national team roster at any given level.

    At no point did I try to compare any of the NHL’s young, Canadian rising stars to the all-time greats of the 50′s and 60′s. That would be foolish, especially since the NHL has changed so much between now and then and it’s pretty much impossible to adequately compare players from completely different eras. I simply said I consider them to be remarkable, exceptional players by NHL standards, which they are. I wasn’t around to watch the glory days of Beliveau, Orr, Howe, Esposito, Lafleur or any other pre-80′s icons.

    Clearly your standard for what constitutes a remarkable player is significantly different than mine.

    That the US was able to win a World Junior title in 10 years is to be appluaded but consistantly finishing in the top 3 in 9 of those 10 years is hardly cause for a complete overhaul of the Canadian system. Gold would be ideal in each of those years but perfection is an unattainable goal (especially on a tight budget) and the difference between gold, silver and bronze is simply one win. The US had to do something because finishing at the bottom of the pack was embarassing. Finishing in the top 3 year after year as Canada has done is not.

    You think Canada has fallen behind. I think the rest of the world has caught up. There is a fundamental difference between the two views and very different consequences for each. For the first to happen would be an embarrassment. For the second to happen would be a testament to how hard the other countries have worked to get where they are as well as a credit to how good of a job Canadian players have done in helping to popularize the game and give other countries a target to strive for.You can continue to hold the first view while I will gladly continue to hold the latter.

  16. Nicanor says:

    How about bringing along Brooks Orpik if he is eligible?

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August 10th, 2004

World Cup Notebook

With a little less than three weeks to go before the second World Cup of Hockey, it’s probably time to begin paying attention to a tournament that’s got the potential to show just how compelling NHL hockey can be.

I only wish the tournament, being played for only the second time in eight years, came around more often. A descendant of the Canada Cup (a name only partially sullied by the name of Alan Eagleson), the inaugural tournament was played in 1996, with Team USA winning the title over Team Canada on the ice of the Montreal Forum.

Much was made of the victory at the time, at least in Canada. North of the border, the loss was seen as a wakeup call for the Canadian national program, and helped lead to the debut of NHL players in the Winter Olympics in 1998.

I’ve got a special place in my heart for this tournament, owing to the fact that I was in attendance at the CoreStatesFirstUnionWachovia Center for the first game in the North American pool between Team USA and Team Canada, a 5-2 American victory. I made a point of watching as many games as possible for the balance of the tournament, perhaps none as exciting as the semifinal between Canada and Sweden in Philadelphia — a game Mats Sundin nearly won on his own before Canada prevailed in multiple overtimes.

The other wrinkle here is that the World Cup uses NHL rinks and NHL rules — with the incredible skill level on the ice more than making up for the constricted space on the ice compared to the international game. Unfortunately, some of the special character of the tournament has been lost, as its format simply apes the one used in the Winter Olympics — a real mistake in my opinion.

As I’ve said before, I wish the tournament still bore the name of the Canada Cup. Hockey belongs to Canada, and is the case most of the time in international play, this championship is Canada’s to lose.

Back in 1996, Team USA was able to play a superior counterattacking style predicated on one simple fact of life: the superhuman play of New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter. With Richter simply unbeatable, and an incredible blend of youth and experience at forward and on the blue line, Team USA cruised undefeated through the preliminary round, losing only once in the entire tournament on the way to the title.

This year, the story is a bit different. Team USA has three goalies (Ty Conklin, Rick DiPietro and Robert Esche) all with great potential as yet unrealized. And in a tournament like this one, two weeks with a hot goalie may be all you need. Team Canada, by contrast, has three goalies — Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and the newly added Jose Theodore — who have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they can steal a game for their team when they need to.

The rest of Team Canada’s roster is simply stacked. Even after losing stars like Steve Yzerman and Rob Blake to injury, Canada has such incredible depth that it could very well field two, or even three complete rosters that could win this tournament.

Team USA, in marked contrast, is a team with a brilliant past that hasn’t caught up to its future. Unfortunately for them, too many stalwarts from the 1996 squad still have spots on the roster, as familiar names like Modano, Chelios, Leetch, Amonte and Hull, among others, are all making a return. But what of the next generation of American NHL stars?

In many ways, the 1996 title seems like a high water mark for American hockey, a roster filled with players who were energized by the victory at Lake Placid in 1980; and a national program that has yet to produce sufficient talent to replace some of the greatest American to ever wear the Team USA jersey.

Don’t get me wrong: Team USA does have the talent to win this tournament outright — just as Sweden and Russia do as well. It’s just that it will take the unexpected emergence of one of the three American goalies as a star in order for it to happen.

As for me, I’m scheduled to be in Montreal August 31 and September 1 for the first two games in the North American pool: Team USA against Team Canada, followed by Team Canada hosting Slovakia (a potential trouble spot for Canada, having to play just one night after what should be an emotional and grinding matchup with the Americans). Look for some reports from the field.

4 Responses to “World Cup Notebook”

  1. puckcat says:

    I saw the final of the first Canada Cup in 1976,the most exciting and memorable hockey game I have ever witnessed.Darryl Sittler scored in o/t to give Canada a 5-4 win over the underrated Czechs. The first 2 goals Canada scored in o/t didn’t count as the net came off before Bobby Hull’s shot went in and the 10 minute mark buzzer went off just before Guy Lapointe’s shot hit the back of the net. In the post game ceremonies the Montreal Forum crowd chanted the names of the goalies Rogie and Zarilla over and over. Pieere Trudeau presented the Cup and the players exchanged jersies on the ice and exited wearing the other teams colors. Terrific event!

  2. puckcat says:

    I also saw the final of the 1981 Canada Cup, the most distressing disappointing game I have ever seen. Team Canada led by young golden boy Wayne Gretzky and veteran Guy Lafleur were being called “Team Woosh”,the finest team Canada had ever put on the ice. Montreal Forum management handed out small plastic Canadian flags before the game and the crowd was revved up. Tretiak was brilliant in net in a scoreless 1st period and then did the tide ever turn as the Russians poured in goals against the hapless Mike Liut. In the silence of the 3rd period many of the little flags floated down from the balconies. Russia won 8-1 as stunned fans exited!

  3. Looking at the roster: Yeesh. I could make a pretty decent case that, given the youth in goal, this might be the year to start rebuilding the overall roster (since I don’t think we stand a chance of beating this Canadian team). But perhaps they’re holding off on that until the (less-watched) ’06 Olympics in Italy, aiming to keep that roster core together for the ’08 World Cup and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

    Good to see: Halpern, Drury, Gomez (an initial mistake corrected), Leopold, maybe Conroy and Rafalski. Not so happy about: Chelios and Leetch (like you), Konowalchuk, Smolinski and Guerin. Would have liked to see: Bates Battaglia, Mike Grier and Hal Gill.

  4. Charles Tupper says:

    Eric, where do you get this notion that the US National Program is in poor shape? Restructured in ’96, won the under 18 world’s in ’02 and the world’s in ’04. This is a helluva program considering hockey in the US ranks way down the list. When did the last Canadian team win the World Juniors tourney? Five, seven years ago? Instead of making the World’s a showcase for old fogies from the NHL retirement home why not allow the the US Juniors, World Champs 2004, to play. Why not let Parise and Montoya show their stuff. It worked in 1980, and this 2004 USA Junior team has far more talent than the Miracle squad.

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