Hockey woes continue for Canada

Well, it seems pretty official, hockey is only vaguely, “Canada’s Game” anymore.

Well, it seems pretty official, hockey is only vaguely, “Canada’s Game” anymore.

The World Championship semi-finals are set, and our national team has failed to make the final four, again.

The Americans, despite liberal sprinklings of expatriate Canadian bloodlines, are also in the also-ran category.

Canada might very well be seeded sixth or below when the Olympic hockey tournament starts. They will rank last in the playoff pool this year.

And most of the major NHL individual trophy awards will likely go to Europeans.

Canada bowed out of the worlds in the quarter finals Thursday against eighth-seeded Slovakia, against whom their two-game total score was 7-7. The USA at least gave a much more highly regarded Finnish squad a last-gasp battle before they, too, headed for the airport.

What has happened?

Well, Europe’s best players are better than ours.

They come from the larger ice surface, so are as fast and fit as North Americans.

The game in Europe is more concerned with finesse than physicality, so European players require and attain better puck-handling skills. North American players, particularly the ones that grind through major junior hockey on their way to the NHL, are muscular and have good straight ahead speed. Shifty – not so much.

That’s not to say North American players cannot stickhandle and shoot and such, and most are certainly brave enough to take a hit to make a play or block a shot, but, the emphasis on high speed puckhandling skill development in Europe is beginning to set its players apart from, and above, North American ones.

Canada can still, if the players aren’t into whiling away the Spring at other pursuits, put an elite team on the ice that is as near a match for anyone as a dime is to two nickels, but we can no longer assume the extra added ingredient of, “grit,” exists only in our players. Nor can we think we are heading in the right direction, particularly since the world tournament provides a much more entertaining hockey experience for spectators.

Talk to coaches in Canadian minor hockey and the emphasis is always on system play rather than skill improvement. I have had coaches as low as the Pee Wee level express to me some form of the statement, “They (the kids he is coaching) are supposed to have all those individual skills by the time I get them.”

If they do not, apparently, that’s too bad for them and the team because there is little inclination within our minor hockey coaching fraternity to teach basic things like passing, shooting and stickhandling at the expense of ice time for, “team dynamics,” or whatever.

Oh well, its ball season anyway. Fastball is alive at Haley several nights a week, youth baseball is in full swing and the Jays begin their season tonight at a tournament in Montana. The Jays first home action is set to start a week from Sunday, at Butler Park, of course.

• Nice job by all concerned for Silver City Days. Well presented and well attended.