BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson said a two-year medal drought at the IIHF world hockey championship is “totally unacceptable” and will prompt a review of how his organization approaches player recruitment for this tournament.
He was particularly unhappy that a handful of key, young players turned down invitations from general manager Dave Nonis.
“We've got to take some of that responsibility on ourselves. It's our job to get the players here,” said Nicholson. “I think we treat players first-class when they get here, but if players are saying no to us we have to find out why and have to find reasons to get them to say yes in the future.
“I don't expect players to be at the men's world championship every year, but I think there is a certain time that players should be here. I'm not going to identify those players but those players know who they are.”
Team Canada lost 2-1 to Russia in the quarter-finals here Thursday after going 6-0 through the preliminary and qualifying rounds and will drop at least one spot from No. 2 in the world rankings after the semifinals are played Friday night.
The Canadians lost 5-2 to Russia in the quarter-finals in 2010 in Germany, but that team went 3-4 and clearly didn't have the horses or the chemistry to finish the job. It wasn't a lack of talent or cohesiveness that undid them against Team Russia this time; they simply had a five-minute lapse while leading 1-0 in the third period and it turned the game around.
The real killer was a shorthanded goal against that tied the game 1-1 and the players head coach Ken Hitchcock had on the ice at the time were either experienced veterans or up-and-comers who would have been on the team regardless of who else was invited; Brent Burns, Dion Phaneuf, Jason Spezza, Jeff Skinner and Chris Stewart. It could perhaps be argued that goalie Jonathan Bernier might have been well down the list of invitees, but he played well. The shorthanded goal came on a breakaway and the winner by Ilya Kovalchuk was a one-timer from the slot and a heck of a shot at that.
So, while Nicholson makes a good point about young National Hockey Leaguers who should be happy to keep playing in May in order to improve their game and make it onto Hockey Canada's radar, it wasn't necessarily the deciding factor here.
“This team was good enough to win but with one or two more players,” he said, letting the thought hang in the air.
The final four recruits here were Carlo Colaiacovo, Marc-Andre Gragnani, James Neal and Bernier. They joined a list headlined by Rick Nash, Phaneuf, Spezza and returnees from last year; Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Devan Dubnyk, Evander Kane and Burns.
“I like the commitment from these players, I like commitments of players in the past - Shane Doan, Ryan Smyth - but I can honestly tell you there is disappointment with some young players that didn't come,” Nicholson said. “I think that is something Hockey Canada has to look at and hopefully that the players will look at in the future.
“And hopefully, the players that came here and saw how they were treated by Hockey Canada and will pass that on to their teammates. You know what, Hockey Canada and Canada have been pretty good to those players through the under-18s, the juniors and Olympic Games. I thought they would have thought about that before refusing to come this year. The bottom line is, it comes down to the player. Every player has their own reasons, some of them are very good for personal reasons, some are a little lame.”
The worlds are always staged at the same time as the NHL playoffs and almost always in Europe - 2008 in Halifax and Quebec City aside - and can be a tough sell for players who aren't injured but are mentally drained. Nicholson understands that problem.
But it can lead to others. This result will have implications as Canada drops in the rankings.
“It starts to have an impact. We're proud as Canadians. We feel this is our game. When you drop to third, we've got to be real good next year or we'll drop further and then it starts to be (quality of) dressing rooms and seeding for the Olympics. Yeah, it can make your schedule a lot tougher in the future.”
That's what makes the back-to-back disappointments unacceptable.
“Everyone has to try to find a way to be better.”
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