Friday, April 24, 2009

Of Hockey & Country: The Battle of Stanley Vs. The World

I don't follow International hockey tournaments religiously the way I do the NHL, but I don't discount them either. I'm very aware of USA Hockey and all they do to promote the game and produce quality American hockey players. It's a wonderful program that has produced some great talent.

In saying that, I support them and their participation in any international event. Many of our teams, both men's and women's, have taken home gold over the years. While I may not be able to tell you who won the last three World championships without the use of Google, I still think the tournaments are important for various reasons.

First of all, these men and women are representing their country. Most of the time they are on foreign soil. They are the face of the US to many people who may never get here. Conversely, the participants get to go to countries they would not otherwise see. It is an invaluable learning experience.

Secondly, it is a chance to play with and against players of varying expertise and notoriety. For many, these tournaments are a once in a lifetime opportunity.

While the IIHF games are big business and tremendous fan favorites in Europe, they seem to take a back-of-the bus seat here in the US. It was pointed out that one such competition falls during the all mighty Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, while that is an inconvenience for us in the perpetually reminded piddly US hockey loving demographic, it doesn't mean we should completely ignore it. That is unfair to those representing US, the US hockey market.

It's also said that only the European PLAYERS give a crap about the World Championship and that the American players do not. Sorry, I can't imagine that any one of the players tapped for a roster spot on Team USA did so begrudgingly.

"You want me to do what? Play in Europe? Against the best players each country has to offer? Crap. Yeah, may as well. My NHL team didn't make the playoffs and my t-time doesn't start till May 15th. I guess I could, if I have to."

Then the question of insurance on each NHL team's most prized assets comes into question. To allow your star players to play in tournaments far from home where they could become injured is understandably a large concern.

But a star player could become injured anywhere, as we have seen more than once this season. Who would have thought we'd lose a player kicking around a soccer ball in the hallway? How many athletes injury themselves at the gym? How about that dreaded snow blower accident we heard so much about this season? See? Anything can happen.

All I know is these games do mean something to a lot of people. It should always mean something to play for your country. International sports competitions are the only time opposing countries can fight to win something without there being bloodshed. And while everyone wants to win the grand prize, during the journey understanding and friendships are formed.

You can never discount the importance of Good Will.

I look forward to Team USA playing in this competition with young Islander Kyle Okposo on the roster. This is a valuable learning experience for him. I hope he does well.

I am keeping track of All-Star D-man Mark Streit and his contribution to Team Switzerland. The IIHF games may never be as important in the US as they are in Europe, but that won't matter to those players that come home with gold, bronze or silver.

Sure, getting your name on the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal in hockey. But you can't tell me that hearing your national anthem play while they put that medal around your neck is not important.

There is no nationality for the Stanley Cup. It is awarded to a TEAM. If you win it on one team, your name is etched on the cup, but you may not be with that team the next year. If Team USA wins at the Worlds', they win as a team of Americans, and American is something they will always be. National pride is not something to be taken lightly.

Good Luck Scott, Good Luck Kyle. A very special Good Luck to the oldest member on Team USA this year; that scrawny kid from North Dakota that went undrafted and made a name for himself in this league any way.

I'll wear my Team USA jersey proudly, even if I can't watch the games in the states. I have Twitter, and Twitter is a wonderous thing!

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