Saturday, February 18, 2006

So what’s been happening?


The Swedish Women beat the USA Women’s team in Turin. Significance? For the first time in the history of Women’s Hockey at that the Olympic level Canada will play someone other than the USA in the Gold Metal game.

Men’s Hockey Group B – Latvia tied the USA 3-3. Men’s Hockey Group A – Swiss beat Czech’s 3 – 2 then backed it up with a 2 – 0 result against Canada. Significance? The playing field is levelling between nations that participate in ice hockey at the international level. Switzerland, Latvia, Germany and the split into Czech and Slovakia teams has produced an excellent cadre of competitive national teams.

Of course this is a result of the opening of the NHL to European players. As European players realized success in the NHL, younger players from Europe, and the USA for that matter, began to find their way onto Canadian major junior league teams. Young players with the opportunity to play the game at that level only served to further the international advancement of the game. For Canadians the holly grail still is, and will always remain, the Stanley Cup. More international players find themselves in the Canadian major junior leagues, graduating to the NNL and competing for Lord Stanley’s mug. This in turn leads to better development programs in the nations supplying players to the North American professional league.

Events like the Olympics and Summit Series such as the Canada Cup or World Cup are hard to judge in terms of how great is the hockey. Certainly, it would be easy to make a case for the Canada 1972, Canada Cup 1987 or Salt Lake Olympics as being some of the greatest hockey every played. I expect though that, for example, in February 2006 the NHL league leading Detroit Red Wings as a team would beat the current Canadian Olympic Team as a pickup squad in a seven game series. Of course with longer series and more familiar opponents it seems pickup team of stars do tend to come together and show greatness.

As fans of the game we all benefit when the potential source of greatness expands to come from more areas than just North America. So good for the Swedish Women. Good on you for the Swiss and Latvian teams. I look forward to seeing more Swiss, Latvian, German, Kazastanian ad Italian born players in major junior hockey and the NHL. It can only serve to make the greatest game on ice even greater.


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