International Ice Hockey Federation

Czech 2015 a turning point?

Czech 2015 a turning point?

Was Crosby’s desire to play a game changer?

Published 28.05.2015 12:00 GMT+2 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Czech 2015 a turning point?
Full of joy: Sidney Crosby celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
There was never any doubt that a World Championship held in the Czech Republic would be a resounding success.

Czechs love their hockey; they have a great team; the country is affordable, enticing thousands of fans from other European nations to attend.

Indeed, the 64 games this year turned out a record figure for attendance, both overall and game average. But the tournament took on added meaning when Sidney Crosby played for Canada. He wasn’t invited to play. He phoned Hockey Canada and asked to play. This was an extraordinary gesture that has as much symbolic importance as anything he accomplished on the ice in Prague (which was a lot).

Crosby hadn’t played at the Worlds since 2006. In the interim, he had taken his Pittsburgh Penguins at least two rounds into the playoffs on several occasions and, as significantly, missed most of two years with post-concussion syndrome problems. His career looked greatly compromised at one point.

Yet he asked to play this year for two reasons. One, he was impressed by the roster formed by general manager Jim Nill. And second, he was out of the playoffs after only five games and felt healthy.

Over and above these two factors, though, Crosby simply has to be aware of the message he sends by WANTING to participate. He is, after all, the face of the NHL, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, arguably the finest player on the planet, especially when a game is on the line.

For top Europeans, playing in the World Championship is not only expected by the fans but is far easier for the players. They spend the off-season in Europe; they’re on their way home. It’s not such a big deal. And, Europeans have as their end-of-season tradition the Worlds.

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But for North Americans, it’s a commitment of more than three weeks and a mammoth road trip at the end of a long season. The argument is that the players owe it to their national associations, but that should be only a secondary reason.

There should be one reason and one reason alone why players skate at the World Championship, and that is a consummate, professional desire always to accept the challenge to participate in best-on-best hockey. When it’s time for the Olympics, all players accept unequivocally. Next year’s World Cup will also see full participation.

For NHL players, best-on-best means, understandably, the Stanley Cup playoffs. But for those players who don’t qualify or are eliminated early, the World Championship is a great opportunity to represent one’s country in a tournament that is nearly a century old.

The World Championship is about history, competitive desire, playing for one’s country, giving back, everything. That Nill was able to put together an impressive lineup without Crosby is encouraging, but even more was the unbridled joy on Crosby’s face when he hoisted the winner’s trophy. This was a player who wanted to be here and had a blast while he was here. There was no “owing” in his smile and joy, only happiness at having conquered all comers.

For the future, hopefully other Canadians and Americans, and even for some Europeans who chose not to play, this will be a year when the World Championship gets an added measure of respect, when players next year and the year after WANT to play, WANT to win, and WANT to challenge themselves.

Fans are better for it, world hockey is better for it, players are better for it. There is no downside. Period.


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