Volume 92, Issue 99

Wednesday, April 7, 1999


Czechs squeak by Canada

An early look at the 1999 baseball season: American league

National league

Quick feet in the hall

Canada needs the national hockey team

Canada needs the national hockey team

The men's national hockey team came to London Monday night, beginning a tour to raise awareness about the national hockey program and the much needed cash to keep it running.

As it stands, the national program has become the ugly duckling of Canadian hockey, forgotten in favour of the junior and women's programs. All fine and dandy but this is Canada's game – lacrosse is the national sport, but we're talking hockey here folks – and there shouldn't be any aspect of the sport struggling, especially this team.

These guys come into towns across Canada and breathe life into the community, particularly at the minor hockey levels. On Monday morning the team skated with about 45 children from London's hockey program. At the same time the team's coaching staff held a coaching clinic; teaching dedicated volunteers how to coach properly.

Most of the time this is happening in towns much smaller than London – towns which don't have London's elaborate minor hockey system.

This is all before the game is even played. Once the team hits the ice the energy can be felt everywhere. For the first time since I came to Western, Thompson Arena was close to capacity (2,300 were in attendance) and there was an excitement very foreign to someone who has spent as much time at that arena as I have.

The game itself was a fast paced game which no one outside of the six National Hockey League cities in Canada gets to see in person. The Czechs are the defending Olympic gold medalists and on Monday they played that way, with a lot of confidence. Not one of the Czech players was on that Olympic squad, but they were playing for their country and as far as many of them were concerned, it was their job to defend that honour.

At the other end, the Canadians were at their Canadian best, opening up the game in fine fashion by banging and crashing their way to a 1-0 lead. Despite the eventual loss, the Canadians fought to the end. The team scored with 23 seconds left as many people were filing out, forcing them to stop and watch to the end.

The team made the game exciting and entertained all those in attendance, especially the children, who get excited about Canadian hockey and dream about the chance to one day wear the maple leaf. These guys do more for Canadian hockey than any publicist or marketing specialist. The reason being that people can see the desire and pride in the way they carry themselves and how they play on the ice.

With this type of dedication to Canadian hockey, these players and coaches are helping at the grassroots level in a way which puts the NHL to shame. Sure there are some who donate money or hold hockey schools in their home towns, but it is the job of those associated with the national team to do this throughout the year.

But their job doesn't end with tours like this one. They travel all over the world representing Canada and showing everyone that Canada is still the world's best hockey nation. Teams from Russia, the Czech Republic or Sweden, strong hockey nations in their own right, still gun for the Canadian squad. Night in and night out, teams get geared up to play Canada, bringing their best game with them and more often than not, Canada still comes out on top.

To lose this program would be a shame and would tarnish a great Canadian legacy. Many Canadians pride themselves on being the ambassadors of hockey. With the loss of the national program, no one in Canada could make that claim again.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999