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An Open Letter To The Hockey Elite

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It would showcase to all that we are the peasants of the sport who only exist to give cash and time to the Canadian kings and their friends. That would be what our role in the hockey world would be reduced to with either an eight-team World Juniors or the Team Europe inclusion.

Dear Hockey Elite.

My name is Frederik and I’m a 26-year-old hockey-loving Dane who last year during the World Juniors, posted an article on this site regarding the way that for the growth of hockey in the smaller hockey nations to happen they need to eventually play against the very best nations and once again I want to elaborate on this topic.

For the nations below the top 6 nations of the world, things are very different and harder due to a lot of different factors. However, that is also why we need the Juniors in its current form or even with a minor expansion of the participants in the tournament to twelve teams, although ten is more than fine as well. The small nations like Denmark or Austria need the exposure from the juniors to grow even with the potential spankings from teams like Canada, Sweden, and Russia in order to grow.

Before I go into greater detail with this, let me start by saying that by no means is this meant as an attack or to make a narrative. Neither is this supposed to target all fans from the bigger nation. A vast majority of Canadians, Swedes, and American hockey fans are fantastic and have my full respect. What this is meant to do is to show the few who might feel that the inclusion of the smaller nations isn’t a good thing for hockey like Ken Campbell. This will be a perspective from someone who lives and breathes hockey in a country where the sport isn’t mainstream like in Canada.

The Blowouts Are Needed

To respond to Ken Campbell’s tweet above I would like to touch on two very important factors. One is why a blowout loss can make a nation better in terms of its hockey program and what they can learn from it. Like I mentioned in the first part, the blowouts are a way to grow in nations like Denmark. I know it sounds strange and odd, but as much as it’s far from fun to be on the receiving end of a double-digit loss, it does help with two key areas.

The first is that being in a tier above where you normally play and especially at the very top of the U20 hierarchy brings more exposure to the hockey program. It allows for the players to be seen by more scouts and the overall setting is just shinier and better than normal. Especially if we talk about the jump from the second tier to the World Juniors. Suddenly massive news stations from all over the world, NHL scouts, major crowds, and diehard fans from some of the biggest nations come to watch the players.

The stories of the hockey development in the country can be told and for a country like Denmark, even the mainstream media over here is able to put more into their coverage. An example of this is that the first hockey game, to be shown live on national television in 25 years here in Denmark, was the 2015 World Juniors quarter-final against Canada.

Denmark lost that game 8-0, but a great part of Danish hockey watched it at 1 am with pride. Despite it being a blowout in a quarter-final, we had faced off against a team with Connor McDavid, in front of 20,000 people in a filled-up Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. One of, if not the biggest arena to play in hockey. This feat and the fact Denmark were able to play against the top of the world of hockey showed directly just how much Danish hockey had improved and developed.

The fact they then stayed in the Juniors for 5 years in a row before finally going back down, showcased to upcoming Danish hockey players that nothing is impossible. The limitations of the lack of arenas and exposure compared to the Canadian scene didn’t mean that it was impossible to play in those games. Even if you aren’t quite talented enough to play in the NHL, you had the chance to make history in the juniors and get that feeling of being a superstar for a week or two.

Learning From The Best

Another thing that can be taken from the losses is the whole structure and way hockey is played on both a player level and development level. These players are getting the story of a lifetime, but they also have a chance to see how a truly amazing team plays. Something my old football (soccer) coach said to me once was that to reach your full potential you need practice and against different levels of teams. 70% who are at your level, 15% who you are better than, and 15% who are better than you.

In this scenario, the World Juniors is exactly what the weaker teams need. Usually, these players play against similar-level opponents, even on national team duties. Denmark will often face Norway, while Austria face Italy. Germany and Switzerland are commonly a match-up and so on. So in order to really test themselves and see how they stack up against the best, they need the chance to play at the higher levels of hockey.

Now I’m not saying that all teams should be going to the World Juniors. That would hurt the tournament’s reputation and hype beyond repair. It needs to be earned and nothing is to be gifted to anyone. However, it is earned in the current form and even with an additional two teams to the Juniors, this would still be the case. The level between Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus, and Latvia aren’t that massive, so having two more teams in the Juniors wouldn’t hurt the competitive nature of Juniors. All it would do would potentially help the growth in more nations who aspire to become a hockey nation and have taken major steps towards it over the last few decades.

We Need To Grow The Game. Not Have A Super League.

In my article from last year, I mentioned how ten was the perfect number for the World Juniors and while I slightly have changed to twelve being better, ten is still a good cap. However, making it any less like eight, and would damage hockey’s growth massively. The reason is that it would become similar to the idea of the European Super League. A place where only those select few can take part and where the only thing that matters is the elite of hockey.

It would desolate the rest of the hockey world where none, but Switzerland and Slovakia would realistically be able to participate in every other year. Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Austria would have next to no chance of ever getting into the promised land. It would be an exclusive club that would take all the money and fame away from the nations that are clawing to get any sort of hockey exposure from the NHL and hockey fans around the world.

Remember the Danish team in 2015 or the German team we just saw beat Czechia this season? Without a real chance of getting in, we don’t see these stories. We don’t see Denmark becoming the darlings of Toronto for the entire group stage in 2015. We also don’t get the near miracle in 2016 where they were 43 seconds away from knocking out Germany.

This year we wouldn’t have gotten to see Germany claw and fight to beat Czechia despite the odds being stacked against them. Players like Nikolaj Ehlers, Marco Rossi, Moritz Seider, and so many others wouldn’t have been taking part in the juniors, and while all of the ones mentioned will and have experienced the NHL hockey, what about a player like Sebastian Wraneschitz or George Sørensen? They probably will never experience a bigger stage than this. While it’s not fun to be middle of a blowout game, those memories and having made a save on someone like McDavid in front of 20.000 Canadian fans. Those memories will stay with a player forever.

These stories moments and learning experiences would all be taken away with an eight-team World Juniors for the sake of what? Competitiveness? A more watchable experience for the fans of the elite countries? Or more than likely to prevent embarrassment. What I then like to ask is an embarrassment for who? If it’s the smaller nations, don’t. The players have memories, and it helps grow the game in the smaller nations, so while we would prefer to be able to make games closer it’s not an embarrassment for us.

If you are in doubt, go ask any player from the smaller hockey nations. However, it could also be an that some think is embarrassing to hockey. To see a score that says 11-2 isn’t pretty and from what I have gathered some think it drags down the integrity of the game down. Maybe for a few in Canada but not anywhere else. It’s growing pains and like anything else, you need them to go further and get better. Last year Austria scored a single goal in the tournament. This year they scored three already and got two against a great Canadian team.

Therefore I plead to the hockey elite. Give us time and let us grow. We will make it worth it by allowing hockey to become a game played all over the world rather than just for six countries.

We Want Our Nation. Not Team Europe.

This brings me to my last point where I want to elaborate on two things. First the suggestion to include a team Europe in the Juniors but also the ideas surrounding a new World Cup of Hockey with the said team included. To say it pretty bluntly team Europe was a farce and should have never been allowed to happen in 2016. It was so clearly an idea that was created for the purpose of money by the very elite of the NHL.

It was a project of Gary Bettman and the owners to showcase more NHL names, but it was a kick in the teeth for any European fan from Denmark, Germany, or Slovakia. Next to none from Europe liked this team. It was just an NHL team with a tacky name. Yes, they were probably better than what Germany or Denmark would have been on their own but it was a mockery of gains and development of the programs.

This would be the same for the inclusion of a team like this in the juniors. It would be a mockery and slap in the face of the Europeans who live and breath hockey like myself and it would be a stamp on the fact that with the very elite of hockey, the rest doesn’t matter. It would showcase to all that we are the peasants of the sport who only exist to give cash and time to the Canadian kings and their friends. That would be what our role in the hockey world would be reduced to with either an eight-team World Juniors or the Team Europe inclusion.

This Team Europe inclusion could also for the potential World Cup of Hockey that is going to replace the Olympics. I don’t want to see another mockery of Danish hockey’s progression. If Denmark isn’t good enough, then that’s what it is but then allow nations like Germany, Switzerland, and Slovakia to at least go with the feeling of the ability to play for the national team. Not just a logo none will care about after the tournament.

To end it all, I again want to stretch that this is not an attack on anyone and I mean no disrespect whatsoever. All I want is to offer the likes of Ken Campbell and the rest of the elite of hockey, a perspective from someone from a small hockey nation. A nation that wants to get a chance to grow hockey but needs to be accepted by the elite part of hockey in order to do so.

Thank you for reading it all
From Frederik Frandsen

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