Monday, May 19, 2008

Looking at the bigger picture

It is often said that, in team sports, bronze is better than silver because you have to win to get bronze, whereas you lose to get silver. I’m sure Team Canada would agree with that thought today after losing the World Championships in overtime.

It is certainly a tough pill to swallow. The 2008 Team Canada was said to be one of the strongest teams Canada has sent to the World Championships. In over 540 minutes of hockey, Canada trailed for less than 3 minutes. Dany Heatley set a number of modern day Canadian records, and half of the tournament’s top scorers wore the maple leaf. At the end of the day, though, they will have to settle for second best.

The pain on their faces was heartbreaking. You can hear the emotion in their voices as they talk about their failure.

But can this tournament really be considered a failure for Canada?

Sure, the mentality in this country is that, when it comes to hockey, it’s gold or nothing. However, you have to look at the bigger picture and the bigger prize – Vancouver 2010.

Although the end result of the 2008 World Championships did not favour Canada, it’s hard to deny that things look good for the 2010 Olympics. With the pressure of having the Olympics on home soil, this tournament gave Team Canada a small taste of what it will be like in 2010.

The World Championships is not usually high on the radar of most hockey-loving Canadians this time of year, since the NHL playoffs are in full force, but having the tournament in Canada and having all Canadian teams eliminated from the playoffs certainly made a lot of people pay attention.

You could argue that this World Championship team will not be the same team sent to Vancouver and there is certainly some merit in that argument, but the dominant play of this team at this tournament would lead me to believe that a lot of them will get the call. It has been said all tournament long that this was an audition for 2010, and a number of players played their way onto that team. Barring injury, I would fully expect Mike Green and Brent Burns to play again for the red and white. It is also a given that Dany Heatley, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf will form Canada’s top line in 2010. And how about Jason Spezza on the checking/energy line? This tournament has allowed Hockey Canada to see how players adjust to a new system and to new linemates. A Sidney Crosby-Joe Thornton-Jarome Iginla line has been talked about for 2010, but no one really knows if it could work; we know that Heatley-Nash-Getzlaf works.

We also need to consider international rankings. Hockey nations are ranked according to their performances at international events, and the rankings at the conclusion of this tournament are going to be used for 2010. Since Canada did so well, and Sweden lost in their bronze medal game, Canada took over the number 1 spot in the world. This means that Canada will play in the first group at the Olympics with the 6th, 7th and 12th seeded teams – which, in theory, should make it easier for Team Canada.

So although this loss hurts to players and fans alike, we should all be proud of what has transpired at the 2008 World Championships. Lessons will be learned and taken to Vancouver in two years, where the ultimate prize will be up for grabs.

Few people remember Canada’s gold medal performance at Worlds in 2004, but we all remember the team that won in Salt Lake City.

I’ll take Olympic gold over a World Championship any day.

3 comments:

DaBich said...

That's the way to look at it...go for the REAL gold!

Michael said...

I haven't heard too much lately from the IIHF, but is the Russian hockey federation management still in chaos and all the good Russian NHL players refuse to play for them?

I think this Team Canada loss seems like is has to be the mirror image to the Penguins vs Senators only with the opposite result.

Ashley said...

Michael - The Russians are certainly in chaos and looking at what is wrong with their hockey program after last summer's Super Series, but this win at the WC helps to boost their self-esteem.

A lot of the good Russian players refused to play for their country in the past, but you are starting to see a new wave of players come up. Young guys like Ovechkin love to play for Russia and they bring an energy to the bench that hasn't been seen in a good, long time. Things are changing with the Russian team and they will be tough to beat in Vancouver (especially with Malkin, Gonchar, and Datsyuk..wow).

Sweden is one team that had me scratching my head a bit this year. They had very few big names on their team - Backstrom and Lundqvist were it - because 25+ Swedes turned down the opportunity to play at the WC. It's something that I definitely don't understand. My opinion is that, unless you are injured or you have a close relative with a serious illness, you pick up your stick and play for your country if you are asked. They are more than willing to play into June for the Stanley Cup, but they suddenly have no interest in playing hockey once that dream is over for the season.