QUEBEC CITY – Will Canada win the gold medal? Are the Russians better than the Canadians?
As a reporter, you always have to try to answer questions like these in the early days of the IIHF World Championship.
But how can you come up with the right answers? It's almost impossible. Looking through the history books doesn’t help a lot. That’s because the results of last year’s tournament aren’t particularly meaningful. Every year the coaches have to build brand-new national teams because some of their best players are unavailable.
Now, there are a lot of rating systems. From A+ to A to A-, and so on. Some like to rate the players by numbers, say, from seven to zero.
But to be honest, it’s tough to envision the difference between an A+ and an A, or a B+ and a B. Do you have any idea what the difference is between a 7 and a 6.5 in a player’s rating?
A couple of days ago, I watched a team practice with a Swedish hockey legend, who now works as a TV analyst. And we developed a new system for rating teams.
Let’s call it “Team Ratings for dummies”.
Many of us have travelled at one time or another by airplane. So we know the three classes in a plane: First-Class, Business, and Economy.
Similarly, a hockey team has three parts: Goaltending, Defence, Offence.
There is no better way to rate a team’s parts than First-Class, Business and Economy.
First, we went through the list of the teams Sweden has to play here in Quebec. Here are the ratings we devised before the teams played their first games.
Switzerland: Goaltending (with Martin Gerber and Jonas Hiller) First-Class, defence Business and offence Economy.
Belarus: Economy for goaltending, defence and offence.
France: Goaltending (with Cristobal Huet) First-Class, defence and offence Economy.
Sweden: Business for goaltending, defence and offence.
Then we looked at the other teams. Are there any with First-Class for goaltending, defence, and offence? Should Evgeni Nabokov become available for the Russians, then we felt we could rate three teams First-Class for goaltending, defence and offence: Russia, Canada and Finland.
So how would you choose among these three?
We could have rated every single player First-Class, Business and Economy, creating a great big airplane on our computers. But this would be too much work for us.
So we found another point: every plane has a pilot. And every team has a coach. Even the fastest plane won’t arrive on time with a bad pilot, and a team can’t win without a good coach.
Perhaps the coaches will make the difference.
So, how about Doug Shedden versus Slava Bykov versus Ken Hitchcock?
Our rating: Hitchcock First-Class, Bykov Business, and Shedden Economy. So our prediction wound up as gold for Canada, silver for Russia, and bronze for Finland.
I was a little hesitant about publishing our new ratings system, since our readers might also start to rate the writers as First-Class, Business, or Economy. And it’s a long, long flight home in an Economy seat.
Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.