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Hockey Canada fires back at IIHF article

The IIHF World Championships, held every summer (during the NHL playoffs) that is supposed to feature the top talent from around the world. Usually that’s the case, except when the players that are invited are still in the playoffs or have some sort of injury that prevents them from playing.

This season, a number of players have bowed out of the Worlds, generally citing overall fatigue after a long season -- that included the Olympics -- and likely a wholly disappointing playoffs exit.

Szymon Szemberg delivered a scathing attack on those players that have declined to play this season, saying that they have forgotten “what brought them riches and fame”. He singles out a number of players, most notably Sidney Crosby, who he says have no good excuse for not attending. Tired? Ha! That’s just a wimp’s way out. Here are some excerpts from his article:

You have heard this many times before: “It’s an honour to represent your country. I feel proud every time I put on the jersey.”

Well, pride and honour seem to be very selective qualities. When a player wants to play - in the Olympics, for example, where he finds the stage big enough and the setting appealing enough - he talks about pride and honour.

Tired is a divorced mother with two young kids who double shifts as a nurse assistant and cleaning lady to make ends meet.

Why is a 22-year-old Sidney Crosby tired when a 34-year-old Ryan Smyth is answering the bell for his country despite having represented Canada at the Worlds already on eight occasions?

He goes on to question the decisions of Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Mark Streit, Niklas Backstrom, and Alexander Steen, among others.

Deciding to single out Sidney Crosby, by far the most polarizing name in hockey, was sure to draw the ire of some. Before I get to my thoughts on this mess, here’s Hockey Canada’s reaction:

“Sidney Crosby‘s the guy they singled out -- he’s played in two finals (in 2008 and 2009), he’s played in the second round of the playoffs (this year), he’s played in the Olympics for us,” said Salmond. “I don’t think it’s fair to single him out. We respect where he is and we respect what he’s done for us and I think what he’ll do for us in the future.”

Canadian team captain wasn’t too happy either:

“I don’t think it’s fair to mention him,” said Whitney. “Obviously, any big tournament would like to have one of the world’s top players, (but) the IIHF doesn’t understand how hard the NHL is, how hard the schedule is. ...

“I think (the IIHF) should concentrate more on making it more appealing for guys like (Crosby) to want to come over here and play.”

In principle, I can see where the Szemberg is coming from. The IIHF goes to great lengths to put together some extremely competitive and well-run international tournaments each season, and it’s frustrating when the world’s best players turn them down.

Yet this is also a case of biting the hand that feeds you, as there is likely zero chance the IIHF Worlds get any recognition without the NHL players that attend each season.

This year, a good number of players invited to the Worlds played an 82-game season, in the Olympics and participated in the playoffs. I don’t care if that player is 18 years old, that’s a heck of a lot of hockey. With training camp starting in September, these players have just a few months off to recuperate and take some time off. Some players are able to continue to play or fight through injuries to play, but that doesn’t mean they love the game any more than ones that turned down a chance to play.

This is also a great chance for non-Olympic players to represent their country internationally, with players like Steve Ott having a blast in Germany.

As far as Crosby goes, if there is one player that no one should question his loyalty to Team Canada it’s him. This is the guy who is the savior of Canadian hockey, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime at the Olympics. Pointing to Ovechkin and going “See!!” isn’t the same, especially when you consider how things went for him and Russia in Vancouver.

I understand the message, sort of, but that was far from the right way to go about sending it.