In 1999, Hockey Canada held the first Hockey Summit. The move was precipitated by Canada’s lack of recent international success. The Canadian Men’s Olympic team failed to medal in Nagano 1998. The women were upset by the USA and only brought home silver. The 1998 World Junior Championship squad followed up 5 straight gold medals with an 8th place finish and a loss to Kazakhstan. Going further back, Canada had also lost at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. It was crisis time for Hockey Canada and the Summit was called, leading to an introspective analysis of how we produced players, coaches, and built teams, at all levels of international hockey.
Over the coming years, as a result of changes introduced at the Summit, Canada saw great success in International Hockey. Men’s Gold Medals in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics; Three Straight Women’s Olympic Golds; 14 straight World Junior medals including 5 straight Golds from 2005 to 2009; a World Cup; wins at the Men’s and Women’s World Championships; Under 18 and Ivan Hlinka tournament successes; the development of NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Claude Giroux, Carey Price, and many others. Overall its been a good decade plus of success for Hockey Canada.
So today, one day after Canada failed to win their first world junior medal in 15 years, we find ourselves examining Canada’s place in the hockey world. We find media questioning if Canada is still number 1 in the hockey world. We find fans on twitter, reddit, facebook, and message boards second guessing Canadian superiority in hockey and stating things like the “US has passed us” ; “Sweden, USA, and Russia are the new hockey powers” and “Canada has lost its way.” We hear calls for Hockey Canada to do something, something drastic like a new Hockey Summit. I’ve heard people call this a national embarrassment and a national shame.
I say POPPYCOCK to these notions. We are not in crisis mode as a hockey playing country. We are not losing our place on the international stage. We lost two games. We didn’t get a medal. Big deal. First off, lets give some credit, where credit is due, this is an international game and the USA, Sweden and Russia were better than Canada was in the medal round of this particular tournament. That said Canada beat two of those teams in the preliminary round and finished first in their group as well. Losing to them in the second meeting between the clubs, in one game eliminations for the medals carries with it no shame. It’s just a matter that when two good teams play each other, there is bound to be one winner and one loser, and anything can happen on any given day.
We have to recognize that other countries play this game, and that they build damn good teams too. This doesn’t mean that Canada has taken a step back, but it does mean that everyone else has taken a step forward. Lets give credit to the Americans who are a worthy gold medalist at these World Juniors, and lets recognize the Swedes who have really taken a step forward after years in the wilderness and many years without a World Junior medal. The Russians have also rebuilt themselves into a world power after some years on the downswing. The Finns and Czechs have also built strong programs, and now we see Switzerland and Slovakia knocking on the door to join the big 6.
However the fact remains, Canada is still number 1. 14 straight medals is unprecedented, and an amazing accomplishment, even if we couldn’t make it 15. We are not far removed from the 5 straight golds, or from the double gold of the Vancouver games. Canada still produces more NHLers than any other nation, and we still have those young superstars mentioned earlier, and more on the way in the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan MacKinnon, and the 15 year old sensation Connor McDavid.
While Hockey Canada always has to re-assess, and always look for ways to improve, we are nowhere close to the level of needing another hockey summit. Sure we should ask the question, why has Canada been so flat at the start of semi-final games in each of the last two years? Is Canada’s coaching and team selection as good as it could have been? What mistakes were made in Calgary and Ufa? And how do we maximize our edge so that we maximize our chances of taking home gold. But asking these questions does not lead us to the conclusion that anything is fundamentally broken about our game or our system. It is merely a number of minor changes that need to be made.
The biggest of these changes surely concerns the way we develop goaltenders, as Canada has not developed a legitimate star since Carey Price (a 2005 draftee), a length of 7 draft classes. This must be addressed, and I’m going to look at this problem, my theory on what has happened, and how we can fix it. But really this is a minor tweak, and does not require the kind of wholesale changes we saw in 1999. Until then…..
That’s the last word.