SANTA CRUZ, August 16, 2013 — Times are indeed changing in the hockey world. The United States has won world junior gold twice in the last four years, including the most recent tournament, which saw Canada fail to medal for the first time in 17 years. If one were to read a broad sampling of Canadian hockey writers and pundits, it would seem that the sky is due to fall on their national sport at any moment.
The rest of the hockey playing world has finally caught up to Canada. Perhaps the worst part about failing to make the medal round at the 2012 world junior championship is that the team was stacked with National Hockey League (NHL) players due to the lockout.
While it is true that Canada can no longer be considered the perennial favorite in any tournament its national team participates in, all hope is not lost. Canadians remain eternally passionate about their game. Hockey Canada, while stuck in its ways at times, is full of bright, visionary people.
The case could be made that this current challenge is good for Canada, forcing its governing hockey body to adapt and be progressive. The days of just showing up and walking away with trophies and medals are over.
Canada’s hockey protectionists are calling for an end, or at least more stringent limitations, to the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) import draft, limiting the ability of Europeans and Scandinavians to take roster spots from Canadian players at the elite junior level.
This fear-based reaction is short sighted and will only serve to push Canada further behind.
Competition brings out the best in athletes. Players can learn and improve with the increased challenges presented by talented teammates and opponents from other parts of the world.
The challenges are not only coming from across the pond. For the last decade, U.S. hockey has slowly cemented itself as a major force on the international hockey stage. More American players than ever are being drafted by NHL clubs. U.S.-born players are finding their way onto CHL rosters in increasing numbers each year.
The next ten years will prove interesting for Canadian hockey. Will parents north of the border continue to pull their kids out of organized hockey, opting for less violent sports? It has been trending that way recently.
Hockey, for now, remains engrained in Canada’s national identity. The two are practically synonymous. It would be strange to see NHL rosters which were not predominantly Canadian.
For Canadian hockey, the current state of flux ought to serve as the ultimate wake up call. There is no reason Canada’s coaches and young players cannot rise to these new challenges. Adversity has a way of defining character, of pushing people forward.
Perhaps Canadians, years from now, will look back at this period as an awakening, the key moment which propelled Canadian hockey back into its rightful place among the world’s elite.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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