Following Canada's third straight gold medal at the World Hockey Junior Championship, I have come to a firm conclusion. 1) I need to buy a new hockey stick and 2) Canada versus Russia has to be considered among the greatest international sports rivalry in the world.
It's a strong assertion, I know, given that the sports world is filled with many rivalries cut along not just cultural lines but religious ones as well. Be it in cricket, rugby, basketball, and even baseball. Soccer is probably the only sport where rivalries run deep on so many levels. But soccer is not the focus of this piece. Shinny is.
Hockey probably offers pound for pound more rivalries than any sport. Think of it, the sport has seven traditional powers: the Czech Republic, Slovakia (both of whom once played under the Czechoslovakian flag) Sweden, Finland, Russia (and the former Soviet Union), Canada and the United States. All are rivals. To the student of geography and history, the natural rivalries among these nations are obvious: Czechs vs. Slovaks, Swedes vs. Finns, Canadians vs. Americans. National boundaries not enough for you? The Soviet Union versus Czechoslovakia was a battle between communist states. The United States versus the same godless Soviets was a battle between capitalism and communism. Liberty versus tyranny. Lada vs. Geo. Good versus evil. Superman vs. er, any Russian villain. And so on.
Gary Bettman and Bud Selig would sell their hair for such inbred animosity.
Recently, the matches played between the United States and Canada have been outstanding. Since the U.S. won the World Cup in 1996, there have been some special games between the two at the World Cup, Olympics and World Juniors - the most recent being the semi-final game between Team Canada and Team USA at the WJHC. It's too bad someone had to lose in a shoot-out. A most ridiculous way to settle a team sport. It's also unfortunate the attendance was abysmal for such a horny, hockey mad country like Sweden. As I have stated in a previous post, the WJHC tournament is vastly under rated.