Team Canada was on fire so bad last night that they broke Twitter. (Okay, maybe they weren’t the reason for the blackout but I’m going to dream and think it was. Sue me.) However, another marvelous internet site was still kicking.
I present to you some of the best comments from the World Juniors gold medal game thread from Reddit because I’m a nerd like that. (Warning: NSFW language ahead!)
At the height of the Cold War, one could say that everything in the public was scrutinized more than necessary. There was a hint of secrecy and in other words a terrifying sense of immediate nuclear destruction that could tear the world apart in an instant.
Sport had its own Cold War and in particular, hockey.
And if there’s two things on this planet that really turn my crank, it’s history and hockey.
In the 1980s, Communism in the Soviet Union was in full swing yet slowly starting to die. A win in the sporting world equaled a win for the whole country and in extreme aspects, a win for Communism. Sport was used as propaganda for the nation and the Red Army team were the country’s main idols. It came as no surprise when former Soviet Army general Viktor Tikhonov lead one of the best and one of the most feared hockey teams in the game. Feared because they had the Iron Curtain hanging over their shoulder and the KGB watching every move.
Without beating around the bush, Tikhonov was hard. One could point out that on the ice and behind the bench, he ruled his team like a Dictator would his country. After all, maybe he did see his team as a country looking to invade and capture foreign land. His time as a general led him to create very unorthodox coaching styles. Players would have to train 11 months out of the year, away from their familiars and live in
the provided barracks; no doubt a salute to life in the army. Slava Fetisov, who captained the Red Army squad, was trained so hard that it has been said he could skate backwards as fast as any Western player could forward. How’s that for conditioning.
Former Soviet Union coach and credited as the god-father of Russian hockey, Anatoli Tarasov was once quoted as saying: “A hockey player must have the wisdom of a chess player, the accuracy of a sniper and the rhythm of a musician.” You could, quite frankly, describe Tikhonov’s team in that exact way. Of course, playing together for 11 months out of the year will definitely bring talent together at outrageous circumstances but the stickhandling, skating, and overall look of hockey the Soviets gave to it pushed the sport ahead 20 years in time.
Tikhonov’s methods were built around the strategies of the game. Working down angles. Being able to have that Gretzky instinct of knowing exactly where your teammates were with the puck. God forbid if you didn’t have a clue. He learned his ways of course pig-backing from tactics that were put in place by Tarasov. Practices would leave you barely making it back to the locker rooms and passing out from exhaustion on the ice. They both expected everything from you.
While they demanded your best, Tikhonov and in a much broader sense, the Soviet Union would give their stars players nothing in return. Most didn’t receive big cheques; they were a pittance at best and then shunned after their big wins. After all, it wasn’t a win for the team, it was a win for Communism and the country! Every game was an Olympic style event with less fanfare.
That’s where the defection of Russian players started to take place. The players knew deep down how they were being treated wasn’t right but they couldn’t speak up for fear of being sent to isolation in Siberia to put it bluntly. Nobody in their right mind liked the coaching style but they did what had to be done.
Then the Soviet Union collapsed.
Tikhonov had some of the BEST players under his wing. However with the threat of the NHL coming in and making offers now that they could entice players to the West, Tikhonov cut Pavel Bure, Valeri Zelepukin, Evgeny Davydov, and Vladimir Konstantinov in 1991 because he knew they’d be gone in an instant. It would save him the trouble. Those names should be familiar to you by now.
While Tarasov and Tikhonov were hockey dictators in their coaching ways, we would not have the style or innovation of the game that we do today. As I mentioned earlier, they helped push the game 20 years ahead of its time. Nobody had seen what they did with stick on these shores before. Some players described it as ballet on ice.
Sony Pictures is releasing a documentary on the entire squad entitled “Red Army”. I urge you to check it out and give it a watch. I can’t wait to see it myself.
Officiating 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.
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.
In 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.
Time to check out the host nation in our look at the Sochi 2014 Olympic games.
Starting in goaltending, you’d think they’d have a lot to pick from but in reality they don’t. Their best shot is 2013 Vezina Trophy Sergei Bobrovsky (friend of the show….). An incredible young goaltender that still makes me question why the hell the Flyers got rid of him. Speaking of the Flyers, Bobrovsky’s teammate and probably backup is non other then his starting goaltender in Philadephia, Ilya Bryzgalov. Rounding out the goaltenders is Semyon Varlamov. Which isn’t too shabby. And gives me an excuse to use this:
Kovalchuk. Ovechkin. Malkin. Doesn’t that sound like a sweet first line to you? It’s music to my ears for me. Datsyuk. Tarasenko. Yakupov. Sweet jesus, a fire powered second line too?! Anisimov. Radulov. Semin. HOLY DEPTH CITY. I’m not even gonna write any more about them.
Defence defence defence! And they slightly have none of it. Markov, who did absolutely nothing in Montreal last year is in the ranks along with Montreal teammate Emelin, Kulikov, and everyone’s favourite ex-Sen donkey Sergei Gonchar. Oh boy, split the D boys, it’s your only chance.