QUEBEC CITY Ė Is it too early to guarantee Dany Heatley will win the 2008 World Championship scoring title? Of course it is. Canadaís only played three games. But considering the Ottawa Senators left wing has already notched a tournament-leading 10 points, the smart money would be on him.
Even if the host nation is ousted in the quarter-finals, Heatley is virtually certain to surpass the 11 points that earned him top spot during Canadaís 2004 victory, when he was named the MVP.
In fact, a Canadian has captured the scoring title at three out of the last four tournaments, including 16-point efforts by Joe Thornton (2005) and Sidney Crosby (2006).
Thatís quite a trend. Itís a far cry from the 19-year gap between Harald Jonesís 12 points for the fourth-place 1963 Trail Smoke Eaters and Wayne Gretzkyís 14 points for the bronze-medal squad of 1982 in his only IIHF World Championship appearance.
For Canada, itís also a big improvement over the period of 1997-2003, when only Czechs, Slovaks, Swedes, and Finns carried off top scorer honours.
Naturally, the measuring stick for Canada and its fans is not individual offensive prowess, but gold medals.
If Heatley obliterates Canadian GM Steve Yzermanís record of 20 points (set at the 1990 IIHF World Championship) but his team loses in the finals, locals wonít be whooping it up in the streets and bars of Quebec City.
But still, winning scoring titles means something.
It means that the traditional Canadian hockey values of grit, heart, and intensity donít have to be the only main dish on the table, with slick displays of skill relegated to a mere appetizer. You can have equal-sized helpings.
It signals a definite shift away from the programmatic defensive mentality that for a time ensnared the Canadians. Remember the interregnum of 1998 to 2001, when Canada didnít win a single IIHF title at the Olympics, Worlds, or World Juniors.
The toughest loss for Canadians to stomach was the 1998 semi-final shootout loss to the Czechs in the Nagano Olympics. Ten years later, when that tournament comes up in conversation, hockey fanatics still wonder aloud why the Canadian braintrust was so committed to filling roles - instead of taking the best available players - that Rob Zamuner made the team ahead of, say, Mark Messier.
(Zamuner, in case youíre curious, finished his playing career with the Brisbane Blue Tongues of the Australian Ice Hockey League in 2006.)
Well, those days are over.
Without sacrificing anything on the defensive side, Canada now regularly brings a squad to this tournament that includes high-end players whose skill set matches up favorably against any of the other Big Seven nations.
Just as some Canadians stereotype European players as pass-first floaters who always look to pull off fancy dangles, some Europeans have claimed that all Canada does is try to beat the other team up physically and jam in ugly rebound goals.
Defenceman Mike Greenís razzle-dazzle individual tally against the Latvians and Ryan Getzlafís no-look pass to Rick Nash to round out the scoring that night both offered powerful evidence to the contrary.
And if a Heatley, Getzlaf, or Nash takes the scoring crown again, it will indirectly force the rest of the competition to reevaluate their game and get better. If you march all the way to the gold medal game, your chances of having the tournament scoring leader are also a whole lot better.