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World Juniors 2010

By Ben WedgeStaff Contributor

Millions of Canadians are disappointed we lost the IIHF 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship, but I’m not one of them. Canada has enjoyed a hockey dynasty since the sport was invented some 200 years ago, with five consecutive wins at the tournament in the past six years to reconfirm our status. The loss this year, however, is exactly what the Canadian team, and the sport in general, needed.
Every year, the NHL pays millions of dollars in development fees to countries with hockey programs in their early stages, based on who gets drafted to the NHL, but development fees alone aren’t going to bolster the international hockey tournaments. Switzerland’s surprise showing, a fourth-place finish after being promoted from Division I this year, will hopefully encourage young Swiss hockey players to succeed.
Outside of the traditional powerhouse countries, hockey in Europe is struggling. Some teams will crack the Championship Division ranks every so often, only to face a 16-0, 12-1, or 10-1 thumping from Canada, the U.S., Russia, or sometimes the Czech Republic. Teams are then sent back to Divison I, where they will wallow for a time, before qualifying for the World Championships once again. Teams need a chance at success to strive for something more, and Canada’s loss may just provide that opportunity.
Teams from Eastern Europe, where hockey is becoming more and more popular, want to see their local heroes do well. Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Kaberle, and Patrik Elias are just four names of Czech players to provide inspiration for many kids in the region. For those in the most unfortunate living conditions, especially when the countries were under the oppressive communism, seeing a local hero do well on a global stage may inspire local children to strive for more as well.
While hockey teams will not turn around overnight, hopefully this tournament will start the ball rolling to a more competitive playing field at the international level, as is currently the case with soccer, cricket, and to a lesser extent, rugby.
Seeing Canada win close matches provides for better hockey than the 16-0 blowouts we normally see at least once per tournament. When three or four close matches determine promotion to the semi-finals, everyone wins.
To Canadian hockey fans who are disappointed, let’s hope that the shake-up at the top will help sow the seeds for better international hockey down the road.

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