One nation rules them all

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Looking back now, it seems so foolish.

Not so long ago, the questions was raised: What's wrong with hockey in Canada? It was a thinly veiled way of saying: "Why didn't we win the last few tournaments?"

Taking a peek at what Canadian hockey has accomplished over the last couple of years makes questioning the direction of the game in our country ludicrous.

When the nation awoke this morning -- a little hoarse from cheering our lads at the world juniors and from tipping back a few too many after gold medals were handed to them -- it was the undisputed No.-1 nation in the game.

The proof is in the results.

Right now, Canada is the reigning gold medallist from the World Cup of Hockey, both the men's and women's Olympic tournaments, both the men's and women's world championships, the world juniors and took all four top spots at the under-17 challenge in Lethbridge.

What country has ever been able to boast that many champions at one time?

What country other than Canada would have a chance to do so?

Where, now, are all those people pointing out our game's flaws a few years ago?

The difference now from, say, four or five years ago was a men's Olympic dream team lost a semifinal match in a shootout, the women failed to win in the final and, after having been spoiled with five straight golds at the world juniors, our kids were collecting silvers and bronzes.

Sure, they weren't at the top of the mountain but they were right there, where a single break or bounce became the difference between winning and losing.

Tuesday night's one-sided gold-medal game win over Russia aside, the crowns won by the Maple Leaf-donning men and women over the last couple of years could have gone the other way without a fortuitous bounce here or there.

It's just the way it's gone.

That's not to say the game's perfect now.

At the grassroots level, where all this success stems from, there are still too many adults putting personal agendas ahead of what's right for all those kids playing.

Too many parents and coaches are thinking their little Johnny or Jane is destined for greatness and can become their meal ticket.

There's still too few arenas, too few practices and too many children not given an opportunity to reach their full potential.

But everything that's helped Canadian teams mine one gold after another was in place all those years ago.

Coaching certification clinics and resources -- such as what's all available at the Hockey Canada offices at Father David Bauer Arena -- were there for the taking years ago.

Programs for elite players to keep honing their skills have been around for a couple of decades.

It's not just the past couple of seasons in which there's been more emphasis on skill development for the very young players.

These have been around for, seemingly, an eternity.

Sadly, it's only the last few years coaches at the younger levels have decided to use that wealth of information and put it to use.

The time will come in the not too distant future where Canada won't be this successful but it won't mean there's a need for a full-scale revamping of the game in our country.

It'll be because other countries will again catch up. It's not a sign of weakness in Canada's program, it's a natural evolution needed for the game to grow and improve.

As shown by the squad that shellacked everyone at the world juniors, that improvement has been by leaps and bounds.

The question should never have been, 'What's wrong?'

It should have been, "What can we do to make sure it's always getting better?"


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