yankee hockey

UNITED NATIONS OF HOCKEY

Posted in international by yankhockey on March 6, 2009

So I’m watching the World Baseball Classic right now, and that combined with my earlier comment that hockey is the true international sport has gotten me thinking about how to make that statement unquestionably true. Ok, soccer is the true international sport, but I was really only comparing hockey to the NBA.

You see, the WBC has teams from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The World Cup of Hockey only has teams from Europe and North America… and Asia too I guess since the majority of Russia does lie on that continent. Hockey has to be able to do better then that.

I understand that there aren’t hockey traditions all over the world. It’s tough, soccer was around before European colonization introduced it to other parts of the world, and baseball exists where it does thanks to US influence in our hemisphere as well as occupation from wars. Hockey was invented in the 19th century in Canada, and Canada barely influences Canadians. Still, hockey has taken hold of Northern, Central, and Eastern European states. But it might surprise you to know that there are hockey teams in Britain, France, and Italy. Better then that, there is a hockey league in Australia, China has been playing internationally since 1972, and Israel recently won their way bracket II group B into bracket I in international play (only to then lose every game the next tournament and get booted back down). My point is, there are plenty of countries out there to play against, and maybe some of them aren’t great, but neither is Italy in baseball but here they are playing in the WBC.

I understand that many many countries are represented in the World Championships, including Mexico, Turkey, and even Mongolia. But those teams are relegated so far down the ladder that not only casual fans are unable to follow them, even die hard fans have no idea they exist. It also means those countries don’t get much money to improve their teams. The foundation of sports is youth programs. Without youth programs who is supposed to enter the leagues? How great would it be to see Mongolia no only play, but compete with such teams as Finland, or even the United States. The only way that’s going to happen is to encourage those countries that wish to play hockey to play good hockey, and the only way to do that is to bring them together with elite teams.

So here’s my idea for the World Cup of Hockey: Open it up to more continents. Do it like they do for the World Cup of Soccer and have regional tournaments. Take two teams from North America, two teams from South America, six teams from Europe, and six teams from Asia and Oceania (counting Russia and the Middle East as part of Asia). That gives you the sixteen teams that the tournament currently holds so it can follow the same path to the championship it currently does. You’d have to make sure that the teams from countries without elite hockey squads play each other so at least one moves on to the second round.

My mission is not to flood the hockey market with poor, unqualified teams. I’m trying to inspire those countries to improve their teams. I’m no fool, I realize that when you put South Korea on the ice against Canada they are certainly going to lose, but can you imagine the excitement from their country if they scored a goal? What if the goalie stops 40 shots and only lets in three goals? Those guys would be national heroes. Kids would want to be like them. Eventually that South Korea team will become real competition for Canada. That’s what I want to see.

Don’t think that these countries can’t field a good team. Places like China, North and South Korea, and even countries not currently playing like Argentina or Peru could definitely put a good team together. If places like Australia and Israel that only see ice in the freezer can play hockey well enough to be internationally recognized, then places that may not have much experience but a lot of opportunity could definitely put a good team together.

And for those of you who really dislike the idea of putting poor teams into an elite hockey pool, let me say this; does anyone really think France, Hungary, or Latvia is going to be a real challenge for the elite teams? They say the cream rises to the top, it doesn’t matter who the bad teams are, the teams who meet at the end of the tournament are always going to be the same. So what if France is replaced by Australia, and Hungary by Peru, in the end you’re going to see the same talent and competitiveness you would have seen anyway.

As the tournament sits right now, it’s the two North American powerhouses and then about a billion Europeans. Sure, there’s a possibility that one of the other countries I’ve talked about could play their way up the ladder and make it to the elite group, but does anyone really believe that’s going to happen? As long as teams believe they will never be anything more then tier II, they’ll never work harder to play better, and worse, they’ll never win over fans in their home country and so never inspire children to take up the game. That’s what I really want to see, young kids in places like Mongolia pretending to score goals, stop shots, and check bodies like their heroes on the national team.

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