I’m slow on the uptake, or, like Magic Johnson said of Vlade Divac, I’m a quick learner, but a quick forgetter too. I wasn’t overly excited about the World Cup, but figured I’d watch at least all the Team Canada games, until the first few minutes of the game against Czech, and relearned that hockey today isn’t hockey in 1987. Back then, you had a sense that Gretzky-Lemieux-Messier going up against the evil Soviets could produce something historic.
Very early on Saturday, I realized/remembered that the hockey would be clinical, the goals would be scored on the margins, in the breakdowns, on the rebounds. There would be no orchestrated circling like the KLM line would do. There would be no flights of the likes of Guy Lafleur or Paul Coffey.
Jack Todd just penned a column entitled Coaches' systems are making hockey boring.
Yet hockey should be better. Players today are obviously bigger, stronger, better conditioned, more skilled, with better and lighter equipment. The skates are made with kevlar and carbon fibers instead of leather. Their sticks are precisely engineered to give better feel, better shots, than the lumber players used two decades ago.
The time has come at the upper levels to outlaw defensive systems. No more neutral zone traps, no more five players massed at their blue line, let’s institute illegal defences like the NBA has done. Instead, let’s force teams into man-to-man schemes. Let’s prevent teams from collapsing upon their sumo goalies. Let’s make hockey strategies more than ‘getting pucks on net’ and ‘crashing the crease’.
Another strike against this World Cup is that the geopolitical climate has changed, so playing against the Soviets/Russia or Czechoslovakia/Czech doesn’t have the same cachet, has no political overtones.
Also, back in the day, la Série du Siècle, la Coupe du Défi, la Coupe Canada, these were the only game in town, the only way to see Russian players. Every time we saw the Soviets, we weren't sure it might not be the last time. Nowadays, we get our fix every four years of ‘best-on-best’ at the Olympics, and the Russian greats like Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are in our league, we see them in the NHL. Their appearance in this World Cup isn’t a thrill so much as run-of-the-mill.
Maybe in time the World Cup will grow in importance, in our esteem, but right now it seems cobbled together, improvised, at an inopportune time, so early in the season.
So I watched the game on FFWD, and hurried back to the college football. Jack Todd’s point needs to be stressed, that coaches are doing whatever is allowed by the rules and the climate to win games, and right now that’s forcing the game in an unexciting direction.