Seven is the magic number

Certain number of Olympians needed to succeed at Worlds

27.05.2012
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Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Syomin are among the seven 2010 Olympians who helped Russia win gold in Helsinki this year. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Based on recent history, there’s a simple formula for ensuring you get the best possible shot at an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medal.

What is it? Bring a roster that features at least seven players from your last Olympic team. And it doesn’t necessarily matter whether they hail from the NHL, the KHL, the Swedish Elitserien, or some other top circuit.

Seven (or 6.67, to be precise) is the average number for each of the last three World Championship-winning squads: the Czech Republic (2010, seven), Finland (2011, six), and Russia (2012, seven). (This year, silver medalist Slovakia had eight members of its 2010 Olympic team on the roster.)

Seven is also the exact average number for winners of any medals in the last three Worlds. There have been a total of 63 Olympians from 2010 on those nine squads.

At the high end, Russia brought a whopping 14 players who played at the 2010 Games to Germany 2010, and took the silver.

Conversely, the Swedes lost 6-1 to Finland in the 2011 final with just one player from the Vancouver Olympics: Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars. They also had only three 2010 Olympians on the team that won bronze in Germany a few months later.

The Czech Republic, the only nation to medal at each World Championship after Vancouver, haven’t fooled around in their last two bronze victories, bringing 11 2010 Olympians last year and six this year.

Now, in fairness, this isn’t an exact science.

Players have retired; thus, for example, Scott Niedermayer has not been available to play for Canada. Others have been sidelined with injuries, such as the concussions that put Sidney Crosby (2011) and Chris Pronger (2012) on the shelf.

In other cases, the leaders of national team programs have simply decided to go in a new direction, bringing in fresh blood.

Certainly, that approach was evident under Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at this year’s Worlds. Alongside his seven Olympians, Bilyaletdinov deployed a whopping 10 first-time World Championship participants: Yevgeni Biryukov, Yevgeni Ketov, Denis Kokarev, Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Yevgeni Medvedev, Nikita Nikitin, Alexander Popov, Yevgeni Ryasenski, Sergei Shirokov, and Alexander Svitov.

But even with all those mitigating factors, it becomes clearer why the two finalists from the Vancouver Olympics, Canada (gold) and the United States (silver), have been left out of the medals recently.

At the last three Worlds, Canada’s representation from 2010 Olympians has been as follows: 2010 (one player, seventh-place finish), 2011 (one player, fifth-place finish), and 2012 (three players, fifth-place finish).

Over the same span, the USA’s representation from 2010 Olympians has been as follows: 2010 (one player, 13th-place finish), 2011 (one player, eighth-place finish), and 2012 (three players, seventh-place finish).

Certainly, these results aren’t satisfactory for the North American powers. They both have more resources and deeper player pools than the top five European nations – all of which have medalled at least once in the last three years. It shows that focusing on bringing young, promising players who may have a shot at the next Olympics – an approach that may potentially pay dividends at Sochi 2014 – has proven to be insufficient at the veteran-dominated World Championship.

It will be interesting to see how many past Olympians suit up at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Sweden and Finland. That will be the last top-level senior international tournament before Sochi.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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