If USA Wants To Beat Canada at Hockey, It's Got To Go ALL the Way

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIMarch 2, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada scores the game winning goal against Ryan Miller #39 of the United States in overtime of the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The bitter defeat of the United States by Canada at the Vancouver Olympic Games is something the Russians and other European hockey powers can relate to.

Canada always seems to find a way to win the big game when it has to.

Many American B/R writers were predicting an American victory after the earlier preliminary meeting, but a change in goal and better defensive play was enough to put the more talented Canadian team on top.

Now Sidney Crosby has been officially crowned as the heir of the Canada's unofficial "hereditary line" of "greatest player of his generation."

This line stretches back to the 1940s and includes Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and now Crosby.

And there lies the problem for the Americans and Europeans.  They have no Crosby who is the best of his time.  They never have.

The closest anyone has come to Canada that way has been Jaromir Jagr and now Alexander Ovechkin.  But the Canadians made Ovechkin invisible in their game against them.

Canada also has had a formidable supporting class that includes Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geffrion, Doug Harvey, Stan Mikita, Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Denis Potvin, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, and too many others to count. 

That doesn't even include the goaltenders that have been developed.  Canada's domination of international hockey is no fluke.

Because behind them is the organization that wins the gold medal for Canada EVERY year: the CHL (Canadian Hockey League).

For American and foreign readers of B/R, who aren't familiar with the CHL, it is Canada's only and top junior league.

It consists of three sections, the QMJHL (which is the junior league of Quebec and the Maritimes), the OHL (Ontario), and the WHL (Western Canada).

Every year a new crop of CHL juniors graduate to the NHL.  On Canada's gold medal winning team, 20 players came from the CHL.

The top player of the CHL is usually the number one NHL draft choice.

The CHL has a schedule similar to the NHL.  Each section has a regular season and then playoffs to determine its champion.

Then the three winners get together with a host team, to play a mini-tournament for Canada's top junior prize, the Memorial Cup.

Perhaps one day if there are enough Quebec and Maritime teams, the QMJHL will split into two sections so that all four regional champions of Canada play for the trophy.

The gold medal that the CHL wins EVERY year is for turning out the best junior players in the world.  No other organization comes close, not even the European Junior leagues.

In fact there is a backlog of European and American boys eager for the limited positions open to them each year.

For the CHL doesn't just develop Canadians, they develop everybody.

And that is the problem for the United States and those that want to make hockey an "American game."  They have no equivalent of the CHL.

Most of the best American development of junior players takes place during the university years, when a boy is emerging into manhood.  But the CHL develops a boy during the critical high school years.

So most American boys who want to have an NHL career have to come to Canada to hone their skills and play against good competition.

Canadian families sponsor them, and take them in.  The American/European boy plays with his CHL team and goes to a Canadian high school to continue his education.

They become like adopted sons for their sponsoring Canadian family.  There's never a shortage of foreign applicants.

So when the United States finally dethroned Canada after a run of five years at the World Junior Championships, it was no fluke.  Most of the American boys play somewhere in the CHL.   The Americans in particular play the Canadian style of hockey.

Over the years, there has been talk by American team NHL owners and other prominent Americans in the hockey world of making the United States a world power in the sport and hockey an American game.

But they won't do that until they set up a CHL of their own.

The fact the Americans, renowned for their sports development facilities and organizations, have never done the most obvious thing to do is curious.

The fact is the United States is content to let Canada train their own players.

The United States does have a limited presence in the CHL.  Each section has at least one American franchise.

The QMJHL has one; the OHL three; and WHL has a whole US division.  Sometimes the American franchises do very well.  The last one to win the Memorial Cup was Spokane.

Setting up an American equivalent of the CHL seems the obvious step if the United States really wants to win Olympic gold medals in hockey and other international tournaments.

They could start in one region and let it grow and spread.  Maybe they could finally develop a Crosby of their own.

Just as importantly, it would help make hockey popular in the United States at a boy's earlier age, something Gary Bettman desperately wants to do.

If the United States wants to contest Canadian hockey supremacy, they are going to have to challenge the CHL.

Because as long as the CHL goes unchallenged, so will Canada.

For more information on the CHL go to  http://www.chl.ca


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