While this country remains a hockey super power, other countries are closing the gap
If you have a moment, bear with me whilst I fire a few numbers at you.
The breakdown of players from various countries selected among the top 10 picks from each of the past three National Hockey League drafts are:
2018 — 2 Swedes (including top pick Rasmus Dahlin), 2 Americans, 2 Russians, 2 Canadians, 1 Finn and 1 from the Czech Republic
2017 — 5 Canadians, 2 Swedes, 1 American, 1 Finn and 1 from Switzerland (the top pick, Nico Hischier)
2016 — 3 Americans (top pick Auston Matthews), 2 Finns, 2 Swedes, 2 Canadians and 1 Russian.
Of the current top 10 NHL scorers, the breakdown of nationality is: 5 Canadians, 2 Americans, 1 Russian, 1 Finn and 1 Czech. Last year, the top 10 breakdown was: 5 Canadians, 2 Russians, 2 Americans and 1 from tiny Slovenia (Anze Kopitar).
Apparently, hockey is indeed played in other countries besides Canada.
In the aftermath of the latest national crisis — Canada’s sixth-place finish in the recent World Junior Hockey Championship, the first time this country has fallen short of winning a medal when it has played host to the tournament — a message needs to be hit home to overzealous Canadian hockey fans: relax, and clue in.
The fact of the matter is while this country remains a hockey super power, other countries are closing the gap. For some reason, especially when it pertains to the world juniors, there are a delusional few who conclude that merely tugging on a sweater adorned with a maple leaf, and displaying the classic Canadian trademark of grit, determination, toughness and a do-anything-to-win somehow guarantees on-ice success.
Haven’t we learned by now those days are gone?
Not that they were ever here in the first place. In 1972, in Moscow, we needed Paul Henderson a bunch of times to scrape out victories. Ditto Darryl Sittler at the 1976 Canada Cup, Mike Bossy in the 1984 and Mario Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cups, and Sidney Crosby in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics.
The Canadians had their lunch handed to them by the Soviets in the ’81 Canada Cup, lost the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and failed to medal at the 1998 and ’06 Olympics.
In other words, it’s never been a cakewalk.
In a piece written on The Hockey News site the other day, Ken Campbell made note of the fact that Canada has 10 times as many hockey players as Finland, more than 10 times the number of indoor rinks (3,300 to 268) and almost seven times as many people (36.7 million to 5.5 million).
Yet Finland kicked Canada in the groin with a 2-1 overtime win in the quarter-finals Wednesday night.
It was tough to tell what prompted the tears — the way Canada went about losing the game, or the realization this team didn’t know how to score, and maybe wasn’t that good to begin with.
I’m not sure what the ice hockey registration demographics are between Canada and the United States, nor am I certain how many rinks are in each country. But this much I know: there are a whole lot more people in the States than there are here, and that country is quickly emerging as a hockey super power, if it hasn’t already.
Agreed, the Canadian Hockey League (which encompasses the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) remains the primary breeding ground for professional hockey players, but the U.S. collegiate system and the U.S. National Team Development Program are churning out players — and highly skilled ones, at that — at an alarming rate.
So enough of this hooey that hockey is somehow, “our game.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean Canada is destined to become a second-class hockey citizen. We’ll always be among the favourites to win a medal in international play, and Canada will always produce the majority of NHLers.
But think again if you think all we have to do is show up.
Robin Short is The Telegram Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort