Ralph Krueger, longtime coach of La Suisse and newly-hired assistant coach of the Edmonton Oilers, took the stage at the Sheraton Centre during the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit to outline a global agenda for the game.
His vision was all-encompassing, from North America to Europe, from national to international, from club to country. He began by introducing the five areas of the game that need to be coordinated: (1) pro hockey in North America, notably the NHL; (2) pro hockey in Europe, which thrives and has developed by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years; (3) national teams, which need to be re-invented; (4) amateur hockey worldwide; (5) club challenge between the NHL and Europe.
Krueger then broke down this outline to detail every aspect of hockey competition. “National teams would be best to function on a 6-year plan and a 4-year cycle,” he began. “The national team is so important to the success of a country’s hockey development. Think of any nation’s greatest victories and how they propelled a country’s players to have the confidence to believe they can be a top player. Think of what Slovakia’s gold medal did in 2002, or the Czechs’ Olympic gold in 1998.”
He continued: “National teams can be best on best, but we can’t have that every year. I think this has to be every two years. The Olympics, of course, comes every four years, and the World Championships, I believe, is a vital tournament. The money the IIHF makes from this event funds 28 tournaments around the world, every year.”
As a result, the top level of play would constitute competition every two years, the World Cup of Hockey and Olympics alternating. Krueger also realizes the significance of the World Championship, both financially to the IIHF and developmentally to players aspiring to become world class. “But I think,” he explained, “in an Olympic year we would not have a World Championship. Instead, we would have a World U-23 Championship which would give every country a chance to take stock of their depth.”
Of course, every country needs a national league to allow its players to take that first critical step of development. “On a club level,” Krueger explained, “we need a Champions League, a competition between NHL teams and top European teams. This is an essential part of making the game more popular in Europe. In addition, we need to resurrect the Victoria Cup, a tournament which could take place between two NHL teams and two European teams.”
In the end, he said, there has to be a carefully laid out plan which utilizes the players effectively, without wearing them down, and also a system which maximizes the importance of tournaments so a term like “world champion” still has some meaning.
“We need to ask what’s best for the game. It’s a complex process, but if we have a clear destination and direction, hockey worldwide will benefit. We need a place for league play and for national teams, for the future of the game.”