Canada needs gold to regain No. 1 world ranking
We call ourselves the best in the world at this sport but, the truth is, Canada is ranked two places outside of a bronze medal in the world. Fifth place, that is.
As Canada only rounds out the top five in IIHF World Rankings with 2,940 points, an Olympic gold medal would give them an additional 1,200, and vault them to the head of the class with 4,140. That point injection would leapfrog them well past Sweden (first – 3,105), Finland (second – 3,065), Russia (third – 3,040) and the Czech Republic (fourth – 2,975), and reassert Canada’s hockey dominance — not only in the Olympic tournament, but on the world stage.
Canada needs those 1,200 points because, quite frankly, they only send their national best to compete as an intact unit against the world every four years. The IIHF’s other major measuring stick in international competition and rankings is the World Championships. It’s a well-known fact that NHL content is limited every year at that tournament, with the showdown conflicting with Stanley Cup playoff scheduling every year. Many players who are invited to play in the World Championships after their NHL team either does not make the playoffs or is eliminated early from them still opt not to attend, opting to stay home to either heal injuries, or just because they know the tournament does not truly reflect any participating country’s full capacity. While that is entirely their prerogative, it also means Canada misses out on 1,200 points every year, instead of just quadrennially. When the 2014 World Championships are hosted by Belarus from May 9-25 – only three months removed from the Olympic tournament – you can bet that the rosters will again be compromised, and the results will be contentious at best. But though that affects all competing teams, it generally means Canada does not win, and thus plummets further down the ranking ladder.
One intriguing scenario would be for Canada to win both the Olympic and World Championship tournaments, and induce a 2,400-point swing on their standing status. An extraordinary possibility, albeit an unlikely one. The last time the Olympics were held and Canada won the men’s hockey tournament, the only player to reprise his role as a Canadian representative at the 2010 World Championships was Corey Perry. Canada did not medal that year. Further, they have not medaled at the tournament since 2009, nor won since 2007. They did, however, pull off a dual Olympic and World Championship once — 20 years ago in 1994.
Further, both tournaments are held on internationally-sized ice this year. While Canada’s winning percentage on North American-sized ice is impeccable, it would be generous to say they traditionally struggle on the bigger sheet. In fact, Canada has not won an Olympic gold medal in men’s ice hockey outside of North America since 1952, when they struck gold in Oslo, Norway.
While every NHL player transitioning from the smaller sheet is on the same learning curve when it comes to adjusting to the additional 15 feet of rink width, it will be the European club-based players from the KHL and Elite Leagues that will have the advantage over the their visiting teammates and opponents. The question will be whether that factor will be advantageous enough to those already familiar, or whether a week of practice prior to games is enough time to adjust and catch up.
Russia is not projected to win, but a team nearly full of KHL players used to big ice — and competing in their home country — may do better than people expect.
And further still, from Hockey Canada’s standpoint, it would be a crushing blow for Canada’s international rankings for the NHL not to send its players back to the Olympics in 2018. Their world seeding would suffer tremendously after likely dropping their best chance at a quadrennial point spike, while instead likely being represented by amateur players.
So considering that Canada needs to win in order to prove that: 1) 2010 was no fluke; 2) they’re better than fifth; and 3) they can indeed win on big ice, I am picking Canada to win gold.
If we really want to walk around calling ourselves the best hockey nation in the world, and if we want it to actually be true, we have to do more than just want to win — we have to win. That’s a game-changer.
Additionally, silver to Sweden and bronze to Russia. The Swedes are just too good to ignore, and Russia’s home-ice advantage and desire to win at home should not be overlooked.
Dave Cunning is a freelance writer from Kelowna, B.C., Canada, currently residing in Jeju, South Korea. Read his blog: https://davecunning.wordpress.com, follow him on Twitter @davecunning and listen to his podcast: http://xppsp.podbean.com.