Saturday, September 15, 2007


Coming Up For Air

by Greg

Distracted by other things, I've paid less than no attention to the hockey world over the past few weeks, only checking in even now because of the start of training camp. Hard to think much about hockey when it's too warm to wear anything but shorts (and only that much because society demands it). I'm far from regular season form -- I've only just begun to absorb the new uniforms (some ok, but two of the NHL's classiest uniforms -- the Blues and Senators -- have taken an enormous step back), I can't work up any good hate for the Red Wings. There's work to be done.

I've recently been reading a book about European soccer, and that revived something I've asked about before, elsewhere -- why do some sports become big in some places but not others? Why, for example, do Sweden and Finland produce bushels of world-class players, but not Norway and Denmark? Why is the sport enormous in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but minor in Poland and Hungary? Why doesn't gigantic Germany produce more players? Why is it a fringe sport in the Netherlands and the UK?

In some cases, climate's an obvious contributor -- pre-indoor arenas, France and Italy would have been hard-pressed to find many places capable of sustaining ice for much of the year. But in Central and Northern Europe, there's no obvious reason for the national divide.

I've got no answers -- any thoughts?

P.S. Tomas Kloucek -- still no team.

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No answers, but some more questions I'm really interested in:

How will Canada's continued and desperate need for immigration to our country change our view of and status in the hockey world over the long haul?

And how will global warming affect hockey? Its harder and harder to find frozen ponds and backyard rinks in Canada, but Al Gore suggest parts of Europe will actually cool off with global warming. How will that effect the balance of power in the hockey world?

Joe Pelletier
My initial thought has to do with the popularity of the other sports in the countries.

U.K., Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany are all soccer-mad like Canadians are hockey mad. And you know how well the Canadian national soccer team suffers from lack of talented players! Gifted sports players in those countries would probably gravitate towards the more popular sports. Maybe a degree of this in the US as well, where basketball, baseball and football (and NASCAR) all come before hockey.

Czech and Sweden are also big on soccer, but not as much as the European countries named above.

Slovakia and Finland are further down the soccer charts and produce more hockey players.

Dunno what`s going on with Poland though. :p

(Now the question is instead, why is soccer more popular in some countries than others? Hmm... guess this doesn`t really help after all!)
Aurian -- good point on soccer drawing away the top-flight talent and fan base, though I'd think in a giant like Germany, they'd be producing both.

There was an interesting line in the book I was reading ("Ajax, the Dutch, the War" by Simon Kuper, if anyone's interested -- it's excellent) to the effect that in the stratosphere of rich Dutch guys, owning a hockey team is something of a posh status symbol, owning a soccer team more working-class. Exactly the opposite of what I'd think.
Germany is my dark horse for the years to come. If they get their youth hockey system fixed they might be a factor withing the next 10 years.
Spain, Italy and France is more a climatic issue. Italy and France do have professional hockey leagues, but take a map and look up where the teams are from and you will know what I mean.
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