Just how ‘Super’ was the series?

point counterpoint

Mike Woods
Mike Woods
Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

Super Series a 'gimmicky attempt'

The recent eight-game “Super Series” between Canada’s hockey juniors and their Russian counterparts, in which Canada went undefeated with seven wins and one tie, has been glorified by some as another measurement of our country’s worldwide hockey dominance. Others see it for what it truly was: a tiresome waste of time.

Back in March, Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson proposed the idea to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation as a commemoration of the legendary 1972 Summit Series between the countries. It was the original intent of RIHF president Vladislav Tretiak to have the best professional players from both countries, but the under-20 players were all they could get.

As far as ice hockey goes, I’m told the quality of play was good. I wouldn’t know; I didn’t watch the series. One team outscoring another 39-13 doesn’t sound very compelling. But as a commemoration of the 1972 series, the event fell flat.

Thirty-five years ago, Canada’s best professional hockey players faced off against an unknown enemy: the Soviet Union. At the height of Cold War tensions, no one had any idea what to expect from the Soviet team. Although Canada won, the series served as a wakeup call that Canada wasn’t the only hockey superpower, and it is still talked about today.

The recent junior series spawned no such revelation. Canada has been asserting its dominance on the world junior stage for years, defeating Russia in the past three world junior championship finals. The series simply served as another opportunity for Canadians to inflate their already oversized hockey egos.

With all due respect to series leading scorer Sam Gagner and MVP Kyle Turris, they will never equal Phil Esposito and Paul Henderson in Canadians’ eyes. With NHL camps starting this week, most Canadians will forget the names of these youngsters—if they knew them in the first place.

Alexander Ovechkin, arguably the best Russian hockey player in the world, said on Tuesday, “You know, right now junior Canadian hockey is better. Everybody knows it.” Were eight games necessary to re-prove that fact, after the past three Decembers have already done so?

Arenas in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Red Deer and Vancouver sold out, but late August is the only time of year when North American hockey is at a standstill. It is therefore not surprising that fans flocked to see the games.

It’s important to see the Super Series for what it was: a gimmicky attempt to capitalize on Canadians’ insatiable love for hockey. Even at this, it did not succeed.

--Mike Woods

It's all about performance

There has been some criticism of the under-20 Canada-Russia Super Series. Some maintain it wasn’t a fitting commemoration of the original 1972 Summit Series, largely due to the Canadian team’s lopsided 7-0-1 record. However, they were still competing against one of the best teams in the world. Russian junior hockey teams have been the most dominant next to Canadian squads recently, winning two gold and three silver medals in the last six championships.

In fact, very few people anticipated a one-sided series. Before the first game of the Super Series when hockey legend Howie Meeker was asked for his prediction, he replied, “I kind of think we might be in trouble.”

It’s somewhat odd that many of those taking issue with the recent series have been Canadian. Should the team be criticized for playing their hearts out and doing better than expected on the scoreboard? The hockey displayed was still of a tremendously high calibre, evident in the skating and passing skills the Canadian team exhibited.

Sometimes, dominant performances can be just as memorable as close ones. Ask anyone who attended a blowout Edmonton Oilers game during the late 1980s if they wished they hadn’t gone, and 10 to one they will look at you like you’re insane.

Apparently, many people still found the games worth watching. The Globe and Mail reported that the four matches in Canada averaged 385,000 viewers, even though the Canadian team was up 4-0 by that point. In fact, the Globe said because the series was so successful, Hockey Canada wants to reprise the format next year against the U.S.

The series also demonstrated the importance of a new kind of hockey team: a squad built around combining skill and grit, which are rarely emphasized together.

This model is perhaps best exemplified by looking at Kyle Turris. It was well-known prior to the series that Turris, the third-overall pick in last year’s NHL entry draft, had plenty of skill. What was less certain, however, was whether he could fit into head coach Brent Sutter’s strict team-defence system. Not only did Turris survive, he thrived and led Canada with seven goals.

The lasting impression this series makes may not be anywhere near as strong as that left by the Summit Series. However, it was still a fitting tribute to that great milestone. Prior to the Summit Series, it was thought that Canada was clearly the best in the world at hockey. The close battle 35 years ago served as a wake-up call that others were closing in. Now it seems the gap has been re-established, which bodes well for Canadian hockey.

--Andrew Bucholtz

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