Thursday, August 12, 2004

8/12 World Cup of Hockey Notes

The World Cup of Hockey, which could possibly be the only high-level hockey we'll see for the rest of this calendar year, has many fans excited with its promise of showcasing the top players in the world in an Olympic-like setting. Those who watched the 2002 Winter Olympics know just how good hockey can be and the top eight hockey nations in the world (Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the USA, the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia) are going to give us another taste of that later this month and into September by showcasing their best players. At least, that's how it was supposed to be. As more and more of the world's top players drop out, the WCH is starting to lose some of its significance and excitement. It will still be a good tournament but some with some of the big names not involved, it probably won't have the same viewership. It all started with Russia's Evgeni Nabokov, who bowed out in June so he could undergo knee surgery in July. Team Russia's next choice was Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin but he announced just days later that he was not interested in playing. He based his decision on memories of Russia's chaotic wind up to the 1996 World Cup and said he did not want to go through that again. That leaves Russia with Ilya Bryzgalov and Maxim Sokolov, virtual unknowns on a team that had a real possibility of winning with a solid goalie. A month later, Steve Yzerman announced he would not participate in the tournament due to the eye injury he suffered in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Calgary. Vincent Lecavalier was given the nod to replace him, which is more evidence of Canada's overwhelming talent pool advantage than anything else. Lecavalier will provide some scoring spark where The Captain wouldn't but he doesn't have the same leadership qualities yet and that may haunt Team Canada. A few days later, Jeremy Roenick dropped out of the tournament, putting a large dent in Team USA's hopes at repeating their 1996 WCH win. He had not fully recovered from taking a puck to the face during the regular season, an incident which resulted in a concussion and a broken jaw for the outspoken Philadelphia center. He was replaced by New Jersey's Scott Gomez, a quality player but no where near the Roenick in terms of name recognition and ability. Later in July, it was announced that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake had to drop out in order to recover from shoulder surgery. It was a major blow to the Canada, who was hoping to have Blake's physical presence on the blue line along with his Avalanche teammate Adam Foote's. He was replaced by San Jose's Scott Hannan, another good player but not widely known outside his own fanbase. Early in August, Robert Lang dropped out for reasons unspecified. In Detroit, it is believed to be related to an injury he suffered in the playoffs but it was never really known what exactly the injury was. He was replaced by Anaheim's Petr Sykora, another very capable player and one who probably should have been on the roster in the first place. Then, Ed Belfour told Team Canada he would not be able to play due to a back injury. It wasn't earth-shattering news since they still have Martin Brodeur but Belfour would have been a very capable backup in case of injury. He was replaced by the Habs' Jose Theodore, who again demonstrates that Canada has an enormous talent pool from which to draw. The Czech Republic lost one of their top defensemen when Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina pulled out of the tournament on the 10th. He cited a concussion suffered during the Stanley Cup Finals as the reason for deciding not to play. He was replaced by Jiri Fischer today. The Czechs are obviously banking on Jiri bringing his "2002 game" rather than the poor excuse for defense he brought last season for the Wings. Yesterday, it was announced by Team USA that Mathieu Schneider would not play, "due to his unsettled contract situation," with the Red Wings. (By the way, the Freep is calling him an ex-Wing. Sure he's unsigned but he's not gone yet. I think. Maybe they know something we don't. Actually, they probably do, being the media and all) Hall Gill of the Boston Bruins will replace Schneider, who will continue looking for someone who is willing to pay him the big bucks for finishing in the top ten of Norris voting (a feat my sister's dog would accomplish were he playing next to Nick Lidstrom). Also yesterday, Team Russia practically lost all hope of winning when Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Zhamnov and Valeri Bure all dropped out. Sergei just didn't feel up to playing, according to his agent, who said he's "nursing a few minor injuries - nothing major but he's not 100 per cent." Ah, the Sergei we know and love. The Russians will also be without defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, who doesn't have the insurance coverage to play according to his agent. Russia's problems with icing a highly competitive team speak of some major problems within their organization but that's been known for years. It's really a shame since they could have the best team in the world on paper if those names would just tough it out. If you still want to watch the Hockey World Cup knowing who won't be in it (I know I still do), check out CBC or ESPN/ESPN2 starting August 30th and ending September 14th. Click here for the full schedule and here for the rosters. It's still going to be exciting and will hopefully inspire the geniuses over at the NHL office, a group of people with nothing better to do than changing the league logo. And that with the Death of the NHL coming up in a month and three days.


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