Anze Kopitar, a native of Slovenia, has 42 points in 44 games with the Kings this season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Is the hockey world shrinking or growing? Depends on your perspective.
From an elite angle, it may indeed be getting smaller. At any given major international tournament these days, the list of true contenders has dwindled to four or five – Canada, Russia, Sweden, the United States and sometimes Finland. Those nations also dominate the first couple rounds of the entry draft, with the Czechs and Slovaks stubbing their toes in terms of prospect development. Senior writer Ken Campbell analyzes this phenomenon in an upcoming issue of THN.
At the same time, there are several indicators that point to world growth.
Start with the Kontinental League, the first league since the World Hockey Association that has poached big-time players from the NHL. A scan of this year’s Olympic rosters shows 60 players (about 22 percent of the total pool) skate in the Russian loop.
Then there are the high-level players who won’t be in Vancouver solely because their national teams didn’t qualify. That list includes NHL key cogs such as Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Thomas Vanek (Austria), Cristobal Huet (France); and other regulars such as Nik Antropov (Kazakhstan), Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky (Ukraine); Dainius Zubrus (Lithuania); and Danes Jannik Hansen, Peter Regin and Frans Nielsen.
At the same time, the nations that are represented at the Games will do so almost exclusively with homegrown talent. There was a time, not too long ago, when Canadian-born-and-trained skaters dotted the rosters of Italy, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, etc. That trend has greatly diminished. The only true-blue Canucks we could find who fit that profile in 2010 are Hnat Domenichelli (Switzerland) and Jason Holland, Chris Schmidt and John Tripp (Germany).
Conclusion? The Big 7 may have lost a couple of long-standing members, but the second tier of hockey nations is expanding and developing more and more capable players.
Some facts and trivia about the recently announced Olympic squads:
• Including 2010 participation, nine players will have been part of all four Games since the NHL joined the party in 1998. They are:
Canada – Chris Pronger
Czech Republic – Jaromir Jagr
Finland – Jere Lehtinen, Teemu Selanne, Kimmo Timonen
Slovakia – Lubomir Visnovsky
Sweden – Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson
Russia – Sergei Gonchar
• Former notable NHLers, now playing elsewhere (or in Ziggy Palffy’s case, coming out of retirement) who are making their North American returns include:
Czech Republic – Jagr, Josef Vasicek, Petr Cajanek
Finland – Niko Kapanen, Ville Peltonen
Switzerland – Martin Gerber, Domenichelli
Slovakia – Lubos Bartecko, Marcel Hossa, Palffy, Jozef Stumpel, Richard Zednik
Sweden – Peter Forsberg
Russia – Dmitri Kalinin, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Alexei Morzov, Alexander Radulov
• Further proof professional hockey is getting “younger”: the average age of both the Canadian and American squads have dropped from 2006. Canada was 28.5 years old, on average, in Turin and is now 27.2. Team USA’s drop is far more dramatic. It goes from 31.3 four years ago to 26.6.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.