Juniors a reminder of the heady days of NHL dynasties
By ERIC DUHATSCHEK
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 -
Parity represents one of the National Hockey League's primary goals
in seeking to negotiate a new collective agreement with its players'
Through a process he calls cost certainty, NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman rejects every new overture from the NHL Players' Association
revolving around a payroll tax on the grounds it would create
inequities between the NHL's rich and poor teams.
But after watching Canada roll over its first five opponents at the
world junior championship, there's a part of me that longs for
inequity and that bygone NHL era of the dominant team, when one club
sets a precise standard and everyone else is left to chase it down.
Too many times in the past few years, the vast majority of NHL games
devolved into a kind of mind-numbing ordinariness, low-scoring
matches where not much of anything happened.
It's why watching Canada's Generation Next these past 10 days has
been fun, in a nostalgic sort of way. It was reminiscent of the
mindset displayed by the Wayne Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers and one
wonders if Gretzky -- who was in Grand Forks, N.D., on Sunday for
Canada's semi-final win over the Czech Republic -- saw the same thing.
After all, the Oilers made their mark with a breathtaking, relentless
display of offence that -- for a time anyway -- revolved around half-
a-dozen kids (including Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn
Anderson) just out of their teens when they began to make their marks
at the NHL level.
Brent Sutter, Canada's head coach at these world junior championship,
was around for those days as well. Sutter arrived in the NHL just as
his team, the New York Islanders, was nearing the end of its dynasty.
He was there for the Islanders' last two Stanley Cup championships
and was present when the Oilers wrestled the Cup away from them.
The Oilers ultimately learned something about winning from the Sutter-
era Islanders, adding just enough grit and determination to accompany
the glitz and creativity of their all-out attack. About the only
difference between the two teams is that Sutter brought the
Islanders' defensive conscience to this edition of Canada's world
junior team, a quality the Oilers rarely displayed until the playoffs
rolled around (and even then, it was evident only in intermittent
By contrast, Canada's juniors blitzed through their first four
opponents by a combined score of 32-5. At the same time, they gave
away little defensively.
The Czechs put up some moderate resistance Sunday, but the final
score (a modest 3-1 Canadian victory) hardly told the story. The
scoring chances were 20-0 for Canada through two periods, and about
three minutes into the third, Canada held a 30-4 edge in shots on
goal. It didn't look as if the Czech forwards wanted anything to do
with Canada's dominant defensive pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Shea
Weber, a duo that will be front and centre again when Canada plays
Russia tonight in an intriguing tournament final.
The Russians have been equally entertaining, largely because of their
dynamic offensive duo of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Not
only do they score regularly, but both have a little bit of an
attitude, a controversial but pleasing cockiness that spilled out in
the final stages of their 7-2 win over the Americans in the other
Gretzky, the original architect of run-and-shoot hockey, reiterated
Sunday that things are looking bleak for the NHL's 2004-05 season and
that if the owners and players cannot come to terms on a new CBA
soon, the start of the 2005-06 season would be imperilled as well.
With that in mind, today's match between Canada and Russia -- to be
played on the fourth day of the year -- could be the most exciting
hockey played in all of 2005.