Canada’s Hockey Is Just Fine Russia

January 7th, 2012 No Comments

Moments after Canada’s 6-5 loss to the Russian’s at the World Junior Championships message boards around the world lit up like a Christmas tree suggesting that Russia and not Canada was the most powerful hockey nation on the planet.

Russia’s celebration turned out to be a tad premature as Russia fell to Sweden in the final giving Sweden the gold medal, while Russia settled for a silver medal.

Little was written about Canada’s bronze medal. Truth be told, only a gold medal will satisfy the masses in Canada, which is very unfair for our boys.

When Canada lost the gold medal last year in heart wrenching fashion to the Russian’s it was a wake up call that, after competing for the gold medal ten times in a row and winning the gold five times straight from 2005 through 2009, the hockey world might just be catching up to Canada.

The proof is in the pudding. Over the past three years, the United States, Russia and Sweden have all earned a gold medal, while Canada has had to “settle” for two silvers (2010, 2011) and this years bronze.

While two silvers and a bronze medal is nothing to be ashamed of, the expectation, fair or unfair, has always been gold for Canada.

After Russia’s win against Canada, many Russian’s chose to comment on how far Canada had fallen in terms of their ability to produce top-end skilled forwards, while boasting about how great Russian hockey is and how dominant they were at every level of hockey.

To be honest, I always find it refreshing when Russian fans come out of their shell to make some cocky comments. Long thought to be reserved even where hockey is concerned, today’s Russian hockey fan, like many of the players that represent Russia at the NHL level, are not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

That said, when you consider how dominant Canada has been at the World Juniors, Olympics and World Hockey Championships of late (go ahead, look it up), the Russian fans’ comments are exposed as both ignorant and undeniably wrong.

A quick look at the NHL’s top 30 scoring leaders reveals some very interesting facts.

First, of that top 30, a mere two of those (Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk)are Russian. In comparison, there are 14 Canadians in the top 30, including Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux, who leads all players with 48 points on the season.

As good as Malkin (43 points on the season) has been, he currently sits eighth overall in the scoring race, while Datsyuk sits way back at 15th overall. Many Russian’s love to throw out how great Alexander Ovechkin is. While Ovechkin is a unique talent, we have all watched his game tumble over the past three seasons. As good as the “great 8” is, Ovechkin currently sits a distant 34th overall in the scoring race and a mere 19th overall in goal scoring—which is supposed to be his bread and butter.

So, how dominant is Russia at the NHL level? For starters, there are just 12 Russian forwards playing at the NHL level, followed by ten Russian defensemen and five Russian goaltenders.

Say what you will about many Russian players preferring to play in the KHL at Home in Mother Russia, but the statistics say Russia is far from dominating the NHL. In fact, when you consider that a total of 27 Russians play at the NHL level one might easily suggest that Russia is falling far short of expectations.

Only two Russian defensemen—Sergei Gonchar and Slava Voynov—own a plus rating and they are a mere plus one and plus two on the season, respectively.

With 23 points on the season Gonchar leads all Russian defensemen, good enough for 16th overall amongst NHL defensemen. Voynov’s plus two rating ranks him 93rd amongst NHL defensemen—not exactly dominant.

On the goaltending front the most dominant Russian has been 38-year old Nikolai Khabibulin, who leads all Russian Goaltenders in goals against average (2.33) and save percentage (.922). Khabibulin’s goals against average is good enough for 13th overall, while his save percentage ranks him 11th overall—good numbers, but not even close to dominating, don’t you think?

When you consider the overall scope of hockey, Canada still produces more top-end talent than any other Country on the planet.

Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, Joffrey Lupul, Jordan Eberle, Jonathan Toews, Jamie Benn, Kris Versteeg, James Neal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and John Tavares—all of whom are in the top 30 in the NHL scoring race—represent some of the most impressive young talent on the planet (not to mention Sidney Crosby, who would easily be in the top 30 if he was healthy). With that in mind, how could anyone say that Canadian Hockey is in trouble? And for that matter, how could anyone say Canada no longer produces top-end offensive talent?

On the defensive side of the coin, Canada boasts the likes of Brian Campbell, Dennis Wideman, Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Byfuglien, Michael Del Zotto, Kevin Bieska, Duncan Keith, Kris Letang and Kyle Quincey all represent a good portion of the worlds best defensemen—all of whom are amongst the top 30 scoring defensemen in the NHL, all of whom are still very young.

Between the pipes Canada may not be as dominant as they once were, but Canada is still well represented with the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliot, Cam Ward, Carey Price and the ‘never say retire’ Martin Brodeur leading the way.

Face it folks—when it comes to professional hockey and the development of hockey players, Canada is still leading the way in top-end talent in every conceivable category.

To all the haters out there (Russian and otherwise)—keep hating. In the end, we Canadians don’t need a gold medal at the Junior level or elsewhere to prove that our hockey is still tops on the planet…next time, check the facts!

Until next time,

Peace!

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