The IIHF: Determined to give someone else a chance to win

Anybody who knows me, and anybody else who just happens to be in conversation with me for more than a few minutes, can tell you that I love hockey. My soma is the good old hockey game; her presence is a holiday to me. I could watch hockey every day and be oh so content. So it may come as a surprise to find out that there is currently some hockey being played, with NHL players on the ice, that I don’t really care about. I know you’re thinking Blasphemy! But it’s true.

No, I’m not talking about the Stanley Cup playoffs. Those are already action packed and memorable and we’re only one round deep. Even in the absence of both the Leafs and Crosby, the two things I tune in for during the regular season, these playoffs have been fantastic. Even so, there is more hockey happening as we speak. Hockey that is full of NHL experience, no less.

Yes, when the season ends and the playoffs begin, those unlucky enough to find themselves sitting on the outside looking in are given a second chance at springtime hockey. During the playoffs? Why? That’s crazy! Why would anyone pay attention to that?

I know right? But, I’m not lying. It does exist and it’s called the Ice Hockey World Championships.

You may be familiar with the World Championships as most Canadians are. They’re those games that no one really pays attention to, since they come on in the middle of the afternoon in May. We all know full well that Canada’s best are out fighting for the real prize – the Cup – so to many, the Worlds are just that tournament with the commercial updates during the Habs/Bruins games.

Oh, we won it again this year? Cool. We didn’t? Meh. It’s not like anyone other than the players’ families actually watched any of the games. This has been the mentality of most Canadians during the tournament for as long as I’ve been around. A tournament ignored by even the most hockey mad individuals in the most hockey mad state. We know that it is in no way a measure of hockey supremacy – it’s our C squad, sent out for the experience. The Olympics count. The Worlds are just there to give players from Atlanta an excuse to stay in shape. The crazy thing is…that’s not the way the World Championships are viewed in Europe.

In Europe – this tournament is the biggest deal in the world and it is a true measure of hockey supremacy. Poke holes in the obviously flawed logic of this – Lord knows I have on numerous occasions – but they genuinely view this as the tournament of tournaments. I didn’t know this until I spent my first spring in Europe and had Latvians trash talking me during an economics lecture. I thought it was cute, but those Latvians were serious! At that time I was living in a small country far from any sense of a hockey culture, so I was relatively safe.

This year I am living in the Czech Republic, a country that also takes its hockey very seriously, and a country that sits next door to the host Slovaks. Needless to say, I can’t go anywhere in town without being reminded of this tournament. It’s in the paper every day, signs sit outside pubs advertising game times, fans run around town in their Czech jerseys, and even my local grocery store is selling ‘World Championship Snack Packs’ consisting of 2 bags of chips, a bag of pretzels, a couple beers, and a mini-Czech flag for your car. Last week, there was an exhibition game in Prague that saw the Czech team host the Canadians. One of my students asked if I watched it and mentioned that he didn’t see a lot of Canadians at the game. I had to dig deep to avoid saying: No, Pavel, I didn’t watch it. There were two game 7s on that night – what are you, thick? And of course there aren’t any Canadians at the game. We don’t know this is even happening!

Which brings me to my next point. Europe takes this thing very seriously, while Canadians don’t. But we’ve won it a lot. Some countries tune into every game, host parties on the streets, hold parades for their World Championship heroes, put them on stamps, and sing their praises for generations. Winning this tournament is a huge deal to them. Canada? Canada can win and our hockey fans may shrug and smile, if that. We won, oh, good for them. And then it’s back to Hockey Night.

Not to name any names – Finland – but there are some places out there that have only won an all-world tournament once. And so they hold this win with such high regard and esteem that even 15 years later it is unavoidable to hear about that time Ville Peltonen scored a hat trick against Sweden in 1995. All they want is to win something, anything, once more. I can tell you, first hand, that the idea of Canada apathetically throwing another gold medal into a pile that resembles Scrooge McDuck’s pool drives them wild. Which still confuses and astounds me. Wow – they really take this non-essential tournament seriously in Europe.

I should take a step back. Of course we are monumentally proud of any Canadian kid that throws on the maple leaf and ecstatic for them when they win. And many players that represent us in the Worlds often go on to wear the red and white in the Olympics. But, when it comes to international bragging rights for our game, I have to be a little picky. The fact is, our best are far from this tournament (For example, Rick Nash is the only player from Team Canada’s World Champion 2010 Olympic team playing on this year’s squad. One. There is one player that would make our proper team). Marc Methot isn’t exactly a household name. Our best are playing for the Stanley Cup – the springtime award that counts.

But it does amuse me how much the Cup eclipses this apparently popular tournament so drastically, even for die-hard fans. For example, as aforementioned, this is all anyone is talking about in Prague right now. No Game 7s, no semi-finals, nothing but the World Championships. On the CBC Sports webpage I can find more information on figure skating than I can the tournament. Figure skating!!! Over at TSN.ca? Again, nothing. You really have to search out coverage on the event, and it’s not at all comprehensive or well formatted. Simply put, Canadians don’t care.

Perhaps this is simply some sort of conspiracy, perpetrated by the Canadian media to maintain our arrogance and fragile hockey psyches. Mmm…it’s probably something simpler than that. I think the NHL playoffs are just better hockey.

Either way, I look forward to the conflict between my indifference toward this tournament and being forced into cheering for the place I came from.

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