Eric, I take your point
. However, I’m not sure whether Canadian hockey and American basketball ignored the talent and athletic development in other countries as much as the NHL and NBA ignored that development because it was not in their immediate interest to engage it. Loss of the gold medal for men’s basketball in 1972 in Munich did not really influence the NBA. It was a fluke and not a serious challenge to the best in America’s game. It is a testament to the strength of the American basketball program that it took another 30 years for a European national team to finally defeat a group of NBA all-stars.
However, Canada’s amateur hockey program did not and does not parallel the well-organised and equally well-funded American college program. Amateur hockey in Canada is purely a function of private enterprise without the auspice of education. Teams and leagues rise and fall on their own ability to raise funds. Coaches are concerned (and sometimes not so concerned) Dads who coach future stars without any qualification or teaching certificate. To see a hockey program in a school run by a qualified instructor is, even today, unusual. The system funnels the best players through leagues like the THL (the Toronto Hockey League) until they reach midget age (14-17) and a Major Junior A team drafts them. Usually these kids sign an irrevocable contract at a very early age with a team that is affiliated with a Junior A franchise. Those not able to make the move to the NHL, in the Fifties and Sixties, moved onto a Senior League where most of the talent for Canada‘s international hockey teams were drawn.
Scott Young (father of rocker Neil) as a sports writer for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, wrote a compelling story of Canada’s international hockey experience in a book entitled War on Ice
. He details the trials and tribulations of teams like the Penticton Vees, the Whitby Dunlops and Trail Smoke Eaters
.These clubs raised money for expenses to cover tournaments like the Olympics by touring and passing the hat. The decline of these teams moved Father David Bauer, purportedly a great player in his own right and coach at St. Michael's College in Toronto, to push for a national program. Father Bauer, brother of Bobby Bauer a member of Boston’s famous Kraut line
, was well aware of the athletic prowess of the Soviet National Hockey team. It was the NHL who chose to ignore the looming Soviet tsunami.
Nevertheless, League owners and governors were not entirely to blame. The NHL had expanded from its original six-team format,and the WHA exploded onto the hockey scene making Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet, hockey’s first millionaire. Most importantly, was the advent of the NHLPA and the growing power of Alan Eagleson.
Fred Shero, former coach of Philly’s own Broadstreet Bullys talked about the motivation of the professional hockey player (in the 1970’s) as opposed to in the ‘50s and’60s.
I’ve studied every system in hockey in Europe, I’ve even studied the Japanese system…I still think my system is no better than theirs, and no better than the Russians and the Russian system is probably no better than ours, it all depends on execution and dedication, that’s what works for you!
I remember the first game I coached in Buffalo, we lost and I fined everybody $25 on the team…so the next day I got a call from the President of the League and he said you cannot fine anyone for not doing what you say, it’s your fault if they do not do what you say!
My point being that the Russians did not invent the hockey work ethic. It was alive and well in Canada long before the Russian bandi players took up the Canadian game, however I have always admired the innovation and insight the fathers of Russian hockey, Bobrov, Kulagin and Tarasov, have displayed. Certainly they deserve full credit for their success. The point is that a Canadian planted the seed for this new growth in the game of hockey and that the best system is not worth a hill of beans, as Freddy says, unless your players are highly motivated. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, NHL players had that type of motivation. The Russians had no choice but to perform or “else”. In the summer preparations in 1972, the NHL players required no such committment. The Canadians motivation came much later, in Moscow, and was drawn from a deeper source.
While Eric is correct in asserting the NHL didn't consider NCAA prospects prior
to Lake Placid, the ensuing years
could hardly be considered a flood and it appears the appeal of NCAA talent in the Nineties
dropped precipitously. However, Harvard Crimson
have made quite an impact in the 2002 NHL draft. My experience with the NCAA and college hockey in general has been positive. But the evidence that the Miracle on Ice produced a sustained influence on the NHL is still lacking.
While Eric is correct in asserting that the advantage to Canadian teams in the Canada Cups, playing in North America on the smaller ice surface, is significant, one could also assert the opposite. It was not surprising that the Soviets won seven Olympic gold medals between 1956 and 1988 on the big ice, mostly at European venues and with European referees. It is also not surprising that the Soviet National team or Central Red Army (basically the National team) would perform well against a multitude of NHL club teams. It would be comparable to soccer's World Champion, Brazil, matching up against British club teams. The lack of depth in the Russian hockey system is evident in the decline
of the Russian game in the 1990’s.The Russians, with a population six times that of Canada, essentially provide enough players to comprise two NHL teams and because of that exodus have seen the collapse of their national program. Still playing the system devised by the fathers of Soviet hockey the second tier of the Russian game is barely competitive on a world level. Yet Canadians playing what Herb Brooks calls "stupid hockey" win a gold medal in Salt Lake City. The evidence supports Shero's theory.
As to the issue of the Edmonton Oilers, the hockey pundits described them as having European speed and Canadian toughness. In combination with dash and crash speed demons like Anderson and Messier who were always intent on driving to the net, the Oilers also drafted Semenko, then the League's top pugilist, who played on a line with Gretzky and Kurri, and big defenders like Smith and McTavish. Unfortunately, Canadians, more than most people, have a great propensity to forget their own history. The advent of statements such as “European speed” almost precludes the fact that speed was ever a part of the Canadian game. However, the Oilers of the 1980’s had more in common with the fire wagon hockey of the Flying Frenchmen than Europeans. The Richards, Geoffrion, Beliveau, Rousseau, Moore and Harvey of Montreal Canadien lore who combined speed and skill (on the 85x200 foot ice pad) with toughness (Butch Bouchard, Lou Fontinato
and John Ferguson) to dominate the game long before the arrival of the big Red Soviet machine.