Tuesday, September 07, 2010


World Hockey Summit-News and Views

World Hockey Summit News and Views

The most important decision makers in the hockey world recently met in Toronto to go over some of the key points of interest affecting the game today.

The summit got off to a bit of a rocky start with most of the Toronto media outlets panning the concept. The cost for the general public to attend all of the sessions was deemed outrageous at almost five hundred dollars per head; nonetheless, after all of the smoke had cleared, and the final curtain had been lowered, most had decided it was a real bargain to see the best hockey minds in the world at work.

By no means was there consensus on many of the topics.

One of the key sessions involved an evaluation of the Olympics in Vancouver, and discussions about how the game would evolve, internationally, from the Games last winter. I am sure all readers will remember that Canada won the Gold Medal. Most will remember that Sidney Crosby got the winning goal, in overtime.

Canada was just that close to losing. Now imagine the impact of the Games had Miller stopped that shot in the American goal, and that the United States had scored the final goal. We would have heard the oft-quoted expressions, “Miracle on Ice” and “Do you believe in Miracles?”

The point driven home by the international attendees, mostly European, was that the Olympics are critical to the game, and that they must be supported.

The National Hockey League contingent took a more cautious approach. Granted, they agreed that the Vancouver experience was wonderful; however, during his address to the hockey nation, the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman broke from his remarks, looked out upon the crowd of five hundred and asked, “Raise your hand if you have ever been to Sochi?” I believe three hands went up. Many in the crowd did not know that the next Winter Games would be held in Sochi, Russia. Most did not have a clue about its location.

Sochi appears to be a lovely place. It is located on the shores of the Black Sea, and is the unofficial summer capital of Russia. You can see the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains from the city. The population is near 400 000. There is one fact about the city that has me stumped. There are palm trees everywhere, many planted by Russian Presidents. In January, the average daytime temperature is 10 degrees Celsius. It hardly seems like a typical venue for a Winter Olympics.

The NHL brass, and the North American media types, are concerned about time with the Games in Sochi. For us to see the games live on television in “prime time”, they would have to drop the puck at 3:00am. That would not sit well with the players, nor the team owners.

Anders Hedberg, a Swedish star who played well with Bobby Hull in Winnipeg, said that the Olympic Games were more important to players than winning the title of the Russian Hockey League, or the Stanley Cup. One quarter of the players in the NHL are from outside the confines of North America. They would agree with Hedberg. But not the Americans and Canadians.

Bettman pointed out that the impact of the hockey played in Nagano, Japan, and Torino, Italy was mediocre, at best.

All participants agree with the concept of “Best on Best”. International competitions should involve the best a county has, at any age level.

As far as I can figure, that would eliminate the World Championships in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals. If you lose here, you get to play there, with other losers. The purpose of the Spengler Cup also escapes me. It is played near Davos, Switzerland, and is of little or no historical significance.

The number of empty seats at some of these international competitions has me befuddled. Organizers of these meets had better find ways to make them financially successful.

The head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Rene Fasel, lauded the impact of the Olympics in Vancouver. He will have his hands full in negotiations with Bettman, Daly, and the National Hockey League Players’ Association when it comes time to working out the details for Sochi.

I would like to be a fly on the wall for those discussions.

James Hurst
September 7, 2010

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