Houston: Canadian Hockey Heretic

So it was Sweden and Finland for the gold, the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the bronze. Those of us who think that Canada/Russia or Canada versus the Entertainment Empire are the great hockey rivalries need to think again. And yes, I’ll say it again: those who persist in thinking that Canada is “still the best” are just plain wrong. We love hockey, we play it proudly and well, but there’s something missing. I wrote about this in ’03, and called my rant “It’s About the Skills, Stupid!” (Click here to read it.)

One of the few media commentators not to be an apologist for The Canadian Way is The Globe and Mail’s columnist William Houston. Watching commentators fall over themselves to reassure a panicking nation, Houston observed in Friday’s Globe, “Still, the mythology lives on. Yes, unfortunate setbacks occur, but Canadian hockey remains the gold standard…. The Canadian hockey media, with some exceptions, are first into the bunker. To the battle stations, men and women, to defend our great game and the Canadian way…”

Houston must take a lot of heat for his views, which he has repeatedly stated. Pardon me for lengthy quotation, but I really think he has it right. Canadian pride is getting in the way of our athletes getting the best coaching. We refuse to learn, while the Europeans have not hesitated to learn from what our guys tend to do well. Here’s Houston on skill development:

Consider this: Who’s the most talented player in the world? It certainly isn’t a Canadian. Arguably, it’s a 20-year-old Russian, Alexander Ovechkin. If it isn’t Ovechkin, it is a 34-year-old Czech, Jaromir Jagr….Still, the excuse makers will talk about Canada’s wonderful accomplishments. They will recite the men’s record on the world scene — the gold medals won by the senior team, the juniors and under-18 team. But those achievements were the result of Canadian hockey capitalizing on its strengths: organization, commitment, preparation, excellent coaching, strong team play, a work ethic, defence, determination and aggressive play. Skill development?

There are two systems in which the game is taught: European and North American. The Europeans produce the game’s best skaters and stickhandlers. The players are creative with the puck and fast on their skates. That’s because Europeans spend more time practising skills than North Americans and receive better coaching. Bodychecking is kept out of the game until the junior level. That gives the little guys a comfort level in which they can do things with the puck without worrying about getting hammered.

In the Canadian volunteer system, kids at the top level will play more than 100 games a season, but will not receive enough practice time. Winning is paramount. Size is important. Defensive and physical play is stressed. Entrenched organizers and influential figures glorify toughness and fighting. They ridicule no-bodychecking rules.

That’s why Canada produces good players, excellent checkers and great fighters. And that’s also why, when a Canadian team goes to the Olympics and competes at the world’s highest level, it gets outskated and can’t score…

 Yup. He done tole the truth.

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