Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ice Hockey World Championships, a summary

Latvia - USA 0:4
Latvia - Canada 0:7
Latvia - Slovenia 3:0
Latvia - Finland 1:2
Latvia - Norway 4:1
Latvia - Germany 3:5

After the first two games, it looked like we'll have to fight hard to avoid relegation. Then, it looked like we could make the quarterfinals. At the end, neither of those two possibilities happened. Well, that's how it has been for most of the last 12 years. 11th place, in which we finished, is quite close to the long-term average of our team.

Our hockey federation's goal was to make the top 10 and, before the tournament, they said that head coach's Oļegs Znaroks' job may be in jeopardy if the goal was not reached. Since the team only narrowly missed getting into top 10, I think Znaroks should be allowed to continue.

Vladimir Krikunov, Znaroks' consultant from Russia, suggested that Latvia improves the team by giving Latvian citizenship to some Russian players:
Even Belarus with its well-developed local championships lacks local player resources. In the last years, they have added six naturalized Russians to their national team. [..] Nothing bad will happen if one or two players from Russia appear on the Latvian team.
I'm skeptical on this idea. Importing one or two players from Russia would not hurt, but it might not help that much either. Russian hockey stars have no reason to play for Latvian national team instead of Russia. And IIHF rules against team-switching would prohibit any Russian player who has ever played an official game for the Russian team (even if that was 10 years ago or even on Russian team in Under-18 World Championships) from playing for a different country, even if they obtained that country's citizenship*.

So, we'd be left with importing second-tier Russian players and I really doubt whether those would be able to take our team anywhere higher than the current 11th place. And it's more fun to root for the homegrown players whose games I have followed since they were in junior hockey. I hope they stick with them.

*I was slightly wrong here. IIHF allows country-switching in this case, but only if the player has played in the national championships of his new country for at least 4 consecutive years. From Latvia's perspective, it's equivalent: our national hockey league is pretty weak and it would be very hard to get any highly skilled foreign player to stay there for 4 years.

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