The Successful Run
After a 3-0 win against the Czech Republic on Sunday, Team USA finished the IIHF World Championship with a bronze medal victory. The squad ended the tournament with a 7-1-0-2 record (W-OTW-OTL-L) and saw many young stars take prominent roles in the team’s success.
Connor Hellebuyck, in particular, played extravagantly for the Americans. By the end of the 10-game session, he registered an 6-1-0-1 record, a .948 SV%, and a 1.37 GAA. He led all goaltenders with at least four starts in the last two categories, beating out Vezina trophy candidate, Pekka Rinne. The netminder also recorded two shutouts during the tournament.
Winnipeg Jets fans: you are very lucky to have this goaltender in your organization.
Team USA’s win in the bronze medal game marks the 15th time in tournament history that the Americans have taken home the accolade. They have won bronze three times in the past 15 years but have not placed higher since the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, back when the Olympics were considered part of the event.
But despite having a young, talented club and playing exciting and successful hockey, the American public seemed to disregard their national team. Even die-hard fans of the sport paid little attention to the tournament that took place in the Czech Republic over the last two weeks.
Why is No One Watching?
Getting people to watch the IIHF World Championship is like trying to get Joe Thornton to shoot; it’s almost impossible to do. Some say that it is a pointless tournament while others want to watch super-stars perform instead.
But yet, the World Juniors tournament grabs almost any hockey fan’s attention on an annual basis. Why is a very similar competition treated with so much more respect than one that has been around since the 1920s?
One large reason is the timing of the event. The IIHF has had the misfortune of scheduling the tournament in the middle of the NHL playoffs, which maintains the bulk of the hockey viewership market in North America. As a good friend of mine put it, “Why would I watch the World Championship when I could be doing better things, like watching the NHL playoffs?” When faced with the choice of international hockey and the NHL postseason, the more dominant choice is going to be the playoffs.
The World Juniors, on the other hand, are in the winter. This is in the middle of the NHL season when fans do not have the same competitive feeling they do when the season starts or ends.
Never Heard of Him
Another factor is the personnel involved in the tournament. Because many of the top players in the world are skating in the NHL playoffs, they are not allowed to play on their national club. They are instead needed to help their team in the pursuit for the Cup.
Even without being bounded by the postseason though, many American-born skaters turn down the invitation to play for their country. Joe Pavelski, Jonathan Quick, and James Van Riemsdyk all failed to make it into the playoffs this year but still did not represent Team USA in the Worlds. Instead, the likes of Mark Arcobello and Ben Smith filled their spots on the roster and led the Americans to the bronze medal. Imagine what could have happened with some serious star power in the lineup.
At least with the World Juniors, watching the best in the world is neither the point nor the expectation. Instead, it’s about watching young talent play against people of the same caliber as them. This is often the first time fans get to see their team’s draft picks play in competition.
No Hope For Worlds
It seems as if this international tournament is doomed to be labeled irrelevant in the United States for the above reasons. The best American hockey players don’t seem to have in interest in the competition and, as a result, neither do the fans. Unless the dates of the tournament change and the red, white, and blue starts taking the World Championships more seriously, the success attained by Team USA will be for little more than self-pride.
Drew Weber is a columnist for the San Jose Sharks at The Hockey Writers. He previously wrote articles and appeared on podcasts for Teal Town USA (formerly Pucknology) and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.