Hockey stars have paid their dues

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

So the International Ice Hockey Federation has its knickers in a knot over players turning up their noses at the world championship.

It’s an interesting debate: are you obliged to say yes to your country, regardless of how much hockey you’ve played in any given year?

We bring this up as Team Canada takes on the Russians in the quarter-final at the worlds in Germany this afternoon (TSN, 1:15 p.m.).

A rematch from the lopsided quarter-final at the Winter Olympics, this one likely won’t produce the same result.

The Russians have 14 Olympians on their roster, including Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, while Canada has but one, Corey Perry.

A slew of Canadians, including the rest of our Olympians, turned down Hockey Canada’s invitation, Sidney Crosby foremost among them.

Crosby, and others, took heat for their decision in a story on the IIHF web site Wednesday.

The IIHF says more than 100 players said they were either too tired, not in the right frame of mind, or too busy to compete, akin to turning their backs “not only on the team and its fans but also to the system which developed them and made them rich and famous.”

The article isn’t selective in its criticism, taking aim at Swiss star Mark Streit of the NY Islanders, Swedes Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings, Niklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, even a handful of players who play professionally in Europe.

“How can a player who is 22 or 25 or 27, and who was just eliminated from the playoffs be tired?” IIHF communications director Szymon Szemberg opined. “Tired is a miner who works in a damp pit in Miktivka, in the Donetz Plateau in Ukraine, who never sees daylight and who provides living for a family of five in a modest two-room apartment.”

A little melodramatic, no?

Szemberg questioned how Crosby, who’s 22, could say he was too tired, when 34-year-old Ryan Smyth, who’s suited up for Canada at eight world championships, isn’t.

It didn’t take long for Hockey Canada to rush to Crosby’s defence, calling the article “inappropriate,” while pointing out that Crosby played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals (in 2008 and ’09), the Olympics this year, then two rounds of the playoffs.

Perry, a member of the Anaheim Ducks, who missed the playoffs, says he respects the decision of those who didn’t go to Germany.

“The emotion level is so high that it’s tough to get going again with a little layoff,” Perry told Canadian Press.

Crosby compared the Olympics with playing four straight Game 7s, culminating in Canada’s overtime win over the U.S. in the gold-medal game.

I’ve never been shy to criticize those who say no to Team Canada.

But taking a run at Crosby and Co. ignores the real problem: why does the IIHF even hold a world championship in an Olympic year?

Coming on the heels of the Winter Games, the worlds mean nothing. We already know who No. 1 is.

Even the players who went to Germany realize it.

Here’s Kovalchuk on today’s game against the Canadians. “It’s kind of a revenge (for the Olympics), but the real rematch will be played in Sochi in 2014,” he told CP.

Strangely, the same IIHF doesn’t stage a women’s world championship in Olympic years.

Geez, think it’s all about the money the men’s tournament generates? Think not having Crosby, etc., in Germany is costing them ticket sales?

The IIHF may be wrapping itself in the flags of its members, but underneath all that I’m pretty sure I see the flag of the greenback.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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