It’s time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey

World_Cup_HockeyOfficiating always comes under subjective scrutiny in any sport. As the sport continues to grow and get bigger and as games get more meaningful, we tend to focus more on the rule enforcers. In international competition, politics come into play and at the very worse can taint your sport for life.

The International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships just wrapped up their 2014 tournament in Minsk, Belarus. Taking place every May, the tournament has attempted to showcase the best of the best in international hockey. However, its timing has always been debated as strange with the NHL playoffs proceeding at the same time. Many people feel, at least on North American soil, that this tournament is really just a waste of ice.

Russia became 2014 World Champions after a controversial defeat over Finland. The Finns got robbed by very questionable officiating and after playing one of the best games in their nation’s history, was forced to be regulated to second. Calls were blown on the ice in favour of Russia and penalties that should have never even be questioned were called against Finland.

Finnish graffiti artist Hende Nieminen went to the walls of Helsinki after the championship game to show his distaste. (Photo: Hende Niemenin)
Finnish graffiti artist Hende Nieminen went to the walls of Helsinki after the championship game to show his distaste. Translated, it says “Silver is not shame, but the judges are.” (Photo: Hende Niemenin)

Talk immediately became not of the two talented teams on the ice but of the black and white striped individuals who dictate the play. Some say the refs played in Russia’s favour to make up for their horrible demise at the Sochi Olympics. You’ll never be able to find out if there was a motive behind their calls or if they’re just terrible international referees but it shines a black eye on the sport.

It’s time to bring back the World Cup of Hockey.

The World Cup of Hockey came to fruition in the mid 1970’s, originally called the Canada Cup. Doug Fisher and Alan Eagleson formed the tournament on the basis of showcasing the best hockey talent of the world through various nations and their competing squads. It would be held every three to five years and would take place in NHL venues before the start of the NHL regular season. As the Winter Olympics were still considered amateur competition and the IIHF World Championships always coincided with the NHL playoffs, this tournament would truly hold the best of the best.

1996USAIn the mid 90’s the Canada Cup changed its name to the World Cup of Hockey. The World Cup was played under NHL rules and NHL officiating. The United States won the inaugural championship beating Canada. Along with their North American counterparts, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Germany and Slovakia each iced their own squad. Another tournament was held in 2004 during the lockout and proved to be successful.

The problem is this tournament is not held often enough to put an end to the IIHF World Championships. There’s talk of another World Cup happening in 2016, a non-Olympic year, which would put a 12 year gap between tournaments. NHL rules and rinks provide the game with the best players on the ice. There’s no reason for international rules and referees to come in a game with a political contest in mind, this isn’t the 1960’s anymore.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be talking about this nor would I be writing this article. I don’t want to read articles about how the refs are putting the sabotage to one side. Leave that to Olympic ice skating. I’d rather listen to Don Cherry scream about the World Cup.

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Turning Japanese: Team Canada and the dreaded Nagano shootout

Jagr and Gretzky shake hands post game. (Photo: Kathy Willens)
Jagr and Gretzky shake hands post game. (Photo: Kathy Willens)

It’s Olympic season so I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane. It’s not such a great memory but one that sticks out of Canada’s hockey history like a sore thumb. The lessons learned at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan were pivotal to the shape of how Team Canada creates and maintains it’s roster in the present time. Sit back and enjoy the tale of Team Canada and Czech Republic’s quest for hockey gold.

The 1998 Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey team came into Nagano looking for a score to settle with the United States. Just two years earlier, the US captured gold at the 1996 World Cup. What both teams didn’t expect though, was neither of them even medaling.

The Canadian team was put together with once again gold in mind. With it being the first time the National Hockey League would take a break from their regular season and allow NHL players to compete, household names such as Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Scott Stevens, and Martin Brodeur complemented the greatest player in the world. That player named Wayne Gretzky.

With a stacked team at hand, Team Canada made its way to the medal round with a perfect 3-0 record. Wins came from the beatings of Belarus, Sweden and the aforementioned Team USA. While coming into the game against Kazakhstan a bit cocky, the hockey gods bestowed its power against the red and white. Proving just anything can happen in Olympic sport, Joe Sakic strained a knee ligament and was out for the rest of the tournament. The not so good turning point for Team Canada.

Hasek. Fleury.
Hasek and Fleury.

Entering the semifinals against the Czech Republic, Team Canada again once had the advantage. The Czechs iced a team that at the time only had 10 players on its roster playing in the NHL. Things were neck and neck and anxiety was at an all time high as both teams entered the third period with a score knotted at one.

The Canadian team was carefully put together by none other than Mr. Broadstreet Bully, Bobby Clarke. With a little input from head coach Marc Crawford, the Team Canada brass was beaming with pride with their selections. On paper, there was no way anyone could come close. Back home, some of the choices were controversial. Eric Lindros was named captain ahead of the likes of Gretzky, Yzerman and Raymond Borque. Clarke’s pick of Lindros may have been a bit biased as he was General Manager of Lindros’ Flyers at the time. A sleeper pick that had heads shaking was Rob Zamuner. Continue reading “Turning Japanese: Team Canada and the dreaded Nagano shootout”

Fan Voice: Jon Rowson and the Czech Extraliga

I love European hockey, it’s clearly no secret. Although it will never top the home sweet home of Canada and our passionate game, Europe and their leagues are following close behind. Here’s the thing, I know barely anything about the leagues aside from the EIHL and KHL and a bit of SM-Liiga. So when Jon Rowson approached me about his passion for the Czech Extraliga, I jumped at the chance to expand my hockey knowledge. Rowson is also the current English website manager for HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL.

Jon Rowson. (Twitter: @JonRowson)
Jon Rowson. (Twitter: @JonRowson)

He took the time to talk to me about both leagues and the effect of last season’s NHL lockout.

March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get into hockey?

Jon Rowson: Well I was born and raised in a town just outside of Birmingham, England, although this summer I’m calling Prague, Czech Republic home. It was actually my father who got me into hockey. He tells me that he took me to a game at the old Solihull Blaze rink back in the late 90s when I was very young, but apparently I hated it and so we left mid-way through the game! However, the Blaze then relocated to Coventry, and I was taken to a few games and I grew to love the game. I can still remember being there when the Blaze defeated the Dundee Stars in the 2003 British National League playoff final. Very hazy memories of course, but still, I remember all the streamers and confetti falling from the top of the stand!

MH: Why are you so passionate about the Czech Extraliga and in your opinion, what makes the league a superior one?

czech-hockey-league-mapJR: When I was younger, my father did a lot of work in the Czech Republic, and he would often schedule his trips in time with my school holidays, meaning that from an early age I would end up in either the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Of course, we would also try and fit it in with the hockey schedule, and back in 2006 I went to my first Czech Extraliga game. None other than the Prague derby between Slavia and Sparta at the then Sazka Arena (now o2 Arena). Cue my surprise as a fourteen year old kid who had only been to EIHL games before that, seeing a massive crowd of over 10,000, riot police bringing in the Sparta fans, and also the whole atmosphere was just crazy. I had never experienced two sets of fans singing for the whole sixty minutes. From that day I began to love everything about Extraliga hockey.

Czech_Extraliga_logoWhile the fan culture is a massive part, and I’ve met some fantastic people through it, I also find that it is incredibly fun to watch. At present I work for a KHL club on their website, which has meant that I have watched a lot of KHL hockey over the past two years, and if I’m honest, I find it incredibly defensive minded and rather dull, even when I’m watching a team I support. The Extraliga is an incredibly offensive minded league, and I don’t think any of the fourteen teams understands what a neutral zone trap is. The players shoot at will, and I just find it by far the most entertaining league in the world to watch. I’ve also noticed that players seem to play the game with a real love for the sport. I love to see players really celebrate after scoring a goal like it means something to them. I hate it when guys score a goal don’t smile or show some sort of happiness at scoring. You don’t get that in the Extraliga. Continue reading “Fan Voice: Jon Rowson and the Czech Extraliga”

SOCHI 2014: Team Czech Republic

Czech Mate!

6929Time to look at one of my personal favourites going into Sochi 2014, Team Czech Republic. The Czechs have been on the podium in the past 3 World Championships and are not going to go down without a fight. In Vancouver they finished a distant 7th but don’t count them out as the IIHF has them ranked 3rd in the world. That’s saying something.

2010 Winter Olympic GamesThey have a depth of talent on the forward front. Lead by veterans Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias, look for David Krejci, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Voracek to all earn their keep.

On the defensive side, Marek Zidlicky and possibly Tomas Kaberle could be your first lining pair. Along with Filip Kuba and Roman Hamrlik, these are two strong defensive pairings. Almost wall like. As long as Kuba doesn’t play like he did in Ottawa.

ondrej-pavelecGoaltending has a wealth of depth as well. Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec will definitely start followed by Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. All 3 have had plenty of experience under pressure situations and well be sure to be rock solid.

One thing’s for sure, don’t count out the Czechs.