Szymon Szemberg is the Communications Director for the International Ice Hockey Federation. We brought up in Puck Headlines earlier today that Szemberg posted an article on the IIHF website criticizing players for turning down opportunities to represent their country at international competitions, specifically the ongoing World Championships in Germany.
Szemberg listed several excuses that are often heard around this time of year when players decline to attend the tournament like fatigue, lack of a contract for the following season and an existing injury. He quotes that as many as 120 players -- from around the world, not just NHL-based -- that could have attended but turned down invitations.
The one excuse that Szemberg takes the biggest issue with is fatigue and he compared Ryan Smyth and Sidney Crosby as an example:
"How can a player who is 22 or 25 or 27, and who was just eliminated from the playoffs be tired? Tired is a miner who works in a damp pit in Miktivka, in the Donetz Plateau in Ukraine, who never sees daylight and who provides living for a family of five in a modest two-room apartment. That is tired.
Tired is a divorced mother with two young kids who double shifts as a nurse assistant and cleaning lady to make ends meet.
Comparing a hockey player to a miner or single mother is silly, and while it is Szemberg's job to help promote the game of international hockey, he's wrong here to point fingers at players. If we want to use Crosby here as an example, he played in every game for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics and into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, not to mention coming off back-to-back seasons reaching the Finals. That's a lot of hockey, even if he's only 22-years old as Canada's men's national team director Scott Salmond pointed out today responding to the IIHF article.
What good would a tired player do for a team's chances in the tournament? There's also the added chance of injury with a short tournament and with millions of dollars invested in some of these players, there's hesitance to risk losing future money.
"I don't think it's fair to mention him," said Whitney. "Obviously, any big tournament would like to have one of the world's top players, (but) the IIHF doesn't understand how hard the NHL is, how hard the schedule is. …
"I think (the IIHF) should concentrate more on making it more appealing for guys like (Crosby) to want to come over here and play."
And while it's disappointing for countries to be without some of their top stars, it's also an opportunity to develop future talent on the international level. The American team was made up of young players with majority of them experiencing the Olympics through their television screens instead of being on the ice. The team finished a disappointing 13th, but as far as player development goes, there could be a benefit to that strategy in the future.
Since the NHL began sending its players to the Olympics, the status of the World Championships has taken a hit. The annual tournament is still well respected around the hockey world and for many players, it's their only opportunity to be global champion, but when it's unable to involve all of the best players in the world, it's hard for it to gain traction and grow. The Canada-Russia medal round game in the Olympics was one of the most anticipated games in the tournament, yet tomorrow's matchup between the two countries in the quarterfinals of the World Championships is barely on most fan's radars.
Maybe the World Championships moves late-summer/early fall in the future to ensure more of the best players attend? Until there's a logical solution for both sides in this case, every spring the World Championships will be considered a second-tier hockey tournament in the eyes of many, including some of the players who would be involved.