One of my earliest memories in actually seriously watching some sport was watching the FIFA World Cup. It was a huge production that had everyone talking about it. It was fun, even if Canada can’t play football and wasn’t in the competition. Even the Euro Cup received a lot of hype here in the Canada. Now, contrast that to when Canada hosted the hockey world cup and what do the newspapers talk about? Well, the Stanley Cup of course! Well, maybe the papers in Halifax were talking about the World thing but they certaintly weren’t talking about it here in Quebec. I was actually really annoyed that Team Canada only got a passing mention in a tiny article in the back of the paper when they lost to Russia.
So why is that no one here cares about the World event? I think there’s a few reasons.
- There’s very few countries that actually play hockey and there are even less who are considered very good.
- They hold the event at a really bad time of year.
- The hold the event too often.
To elaborate on point 1. Let’s be honest. There’s way fewer countries who play hockey than there are who play football. Less countries means less fans means less people to generate hype. Also, if you look at past winners of the tournament you will see that there’s pretty much only five teams who have filled the top three spots continuously: Canada, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland and now Russia as well (I’m discounting the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia because they don’t exist anymore). So that probably further lessens the fanbase because I’m pretty sure that it would take a strong showing by European teams to generate interest in their repsective countries. Most European countries put a higher emphasis on football than they do on hockey. I think a higher level of hockey in Europe would go a long way to making the World event more competitive and more interesting and therfore a bigger event. And that’s why I think the KHL is a good idea but that’s another thing altogether.
But why isn’t the World event appreciated more in North America where we are clearly quite passionate about hockey? Just take a look at when this event happens. Usually it’s held in April and/or May. Yeah. Right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the NHL, the Stanley Cup is really the only thing that you can win. This is not like in European football where you can win in your league/country, in the UEFA cup or in the Champions League. Oh and don’t let me forget about that World Cup League thing where the Champions League teams from all over the world play each other (*kicks Man U by the way*). In the NHL you get one shot at one cup. That’s it. Yeah, okay so you get a little thing if you win in your conference even if half your games were against teams not from your conference, but no one cares about that. Best in the conference means nothing. Best in the league means a heck of a lot.
Because the best in the world in hockey still play in the NHL, the winners of the Stanley Cup are generally the best bunch of players in the world. Given the choice, what do you think most guys would choose? To test your skills against the best in the world who are playing in the NHL and by winning the Stanley Cup, you’re making a case that you’re the best in the world OR play in a tournament where there are really only 5 teams who ever win the event and most of the time those teams aren’t even consisting of the best guys out there? I’d go for option 1, honestly. Until the best in the world aren’t playing in only the NHL, the world event won’t gain much importance among the actual players. That’s not the say that the guys don’t like to win it. Look at how happy the Russians were to win only their second World Championship. But you are honestly telling me that guys like Ovechkin, Nabakov and Kovalchuk wouldn’t rather be winning that Stanley Cup?
You are not best in the world if you win the World Championship. I’m sure team Sweden would have done a lot better if some of their star players weren’t running over the Dallas Stars in the playoffs at the time. And Canada could have done better if some of the best goalies (during the playoffs anyway) weren’t battling it out in the Eastern Conference (and I guess we could have benefitted from having Crosby too).
Change the schedule and maybe then we can see some of the best of the best duke it out.
And finally, I think that they hold the even too often. Look at the World Cup and the Euro Cup in football. It’s extra special and because it only happens every four years. I’m not saying hold the hockey championship thing every four years. Maybe every two or three years (why can’t it be an odd number?). Every year makes it boring – especially when the best in the world aren’t even playing in it.