Jump to content

VHL 20 in 20 #4: Internationals


Recommended Posts


When you sign up a new player for the VHL, one of the fields that is required to be filled out is the “Birthplace” section. The reason for this is so that your player can be eligible to play in the World Cup. The World Cup occurs every two seasons and groups players together according to place of birth. There’s Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland. Players who aren’t born in one of these six countries are divided up and sorted into one of them, so that they can still play. I’ve always wondered whether or not the World Cup was really held in high regard here. After all, many players aren’t actually playing for their home country, and the tournament only lasts a few days. Do a player’s accomplishments in this event matter when it comes to picking Hall of Fame inductees? Is Canada still the dominant nation, like in the IIHF, or are there other countries that can hang with them? Most importantly, how important is the World Cup to VHL players?

As you may or may not know, the World Cup is not a VHL original. According to former Commissioner Scotty Campbell, it’s origins date back to an older league.

”We originally had some international components in the ESHL, so that's always been something that we've tried to incorporate because it's a different perspective on things. I believe the SHL originally was the first to implement the international play, however.” – Scotty Campbell

The SHL that Scotty is talking about is not the SHL that currently exists. This SHL dates back several years ago – almost an eternity in sim league years. I was not a member of that league, and I’m assuming that the vast majority of current VHL members were not SHL members either. It was a league that preceded the VHL, and while I don’t know much about it, I don’t think it was a point task league. That is, your player didn’t get practice hours to improve.

The inaugural VHL World Cup featured 6 teams as well – Canada, USA, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Western Europe, and Central Europe. Scandinavia featured players from the Nordic countries, like Thor Ljunggren of Sweden and Daric Radmonovic of Russia. Westerm Europe featured English players such as David Night, or French players such as Chris Julien, among others. Meanwhile, Central Europe was where you found the German player like Christian Stolzschweiger and Joey Kendrick. In Season 4, the next World Cup, things changed. Canada, Scandinavia, Western Europe, and the USA were still intact, but Team Switzerland had been disbanded, sending its players to Team Central Europe. This pushed the Germans out of Central Europe, and into a new team known as Northern Europe. As of Season 6, however, the six teams that we know today were officially formed, and have remained intact since then.

Obviously, being a hockey league, the VHL has a very strong Canadian presence. There are easily more Canadians in the league than any other country, and Canada has definitely pumped out some big name hockey players. Guys like Zak Rawlyk, Brandon Rush, and Josh Vestiquan are examples of players who have stood out on the international stage while wearing the maple leaf jersey. Canada has 3 gold medals – the most out of any other country – and 6 medals overall. 2 of their 3 gold medals have come in the last 2 World Cups, and they are looking strong again for the Season 20 world cup.

On the other hand, Canada definitely hasn’t been as dominant as the country expects itself to be. In international hockey, Canadians expect nothing less than a gold medal, and while Canada has delivered on 3 out of 9 occasions, they have also encountered difficulty. After a bronze, a gold, and another bronze in the first three World Cups, Canada finished last in Season 8, then 4th in Seasons 10 and 12. For Canadian fans, this was not good enough.

”I sometimes think that some people simply don't choose to scout players from Canada because they need to change it up and root for someone else. So because of that, a somewhat natural parity is created through not wanting to have a Canadian because it is cliche. I believe there was just a drain on quality for that small stretch, and other nations benefited with natural VHL athletes.” – Zak Rawlyk

Team Canada has celebrated more often than any other team in the VHL World Cup history

Canada would rebound with a silver and two gold medals in the following three World Cups.

South of the border, the USA is the next most popular country to breed VHLers. With Kevin Brooks, Matt Bentz, and Nicholas Evans as examples of Ameerican VHLers, you can see that the VHL has become a nice destination for the Yanks. In the World Cup, however, the Americans have proven to be rather inconsistent. They, like Canada, have 6 medals in the World Cup, but 3 of them are silver, 2 are bronze, and only 1 is gold.

I was certainly disappointed when we lost every year, but you can't argue with a silver and a bronze. When you take the talent that has come out of Canada into consideration, I feel like some blood, sweat, and tears went into the medals we have won, and that's great. – Zach Voss

However, despite some difficulty in winning a gold medal, Team USA has never finished lower than 4th place in the World Cup – this is something that Team Canada can’t say. In Team USA’s last 3 World Cups, they have finished 4th, 3rd, and 2nd, respectively. There seems to be a trend developing, and Season 20 could be when the Americans win their 2nd gold medal. Zach Voss certainly believes it’s a possibility.

”When people realize that USA is emerging as one of the top hockey countries not only in terms of talent, but in terms of interest, my fellow agents will begin bringing American players into the mix. Team USA will become the dynasty. – Zach Voss

The third big country at the World Cup is definitely Team Sweden. Nobody has played in the Gold Medal game more often than the Swedes, who have 2 gold medals and 3 silver medals. They have played in the finals 5 times, more than Canada and the USA at 4 each. What is interesting about Team Sweden is that many of their victories in the World Cup were as a result of strong team play. Looking at the Overall Scoring Table, only 2 players who laced up the skates for the Royal Kingdom are among the top 30 World Cup scorers of all time: Grimm Jonsson and Mikka Virkkunen. What’s interesting to note is that neither of those players is actually from Sweden. Jonsson is Icelandic, while Virkkunen is Finnish. This leads us to wonder whether or not players like these have any national pride when playing at the World Cup, seeing as how they’re playing for a country with which they have no real affiliation.

”I think I had more pride in the accomplishment because I was representing such a small and unique country. The fact that I could lead team Sweden in scoring just tells us that true hockey talent can come from anywhere.” – Grimm Jonsson

The Swedes are certainly not a team to be taken lightly. They haven’t finished outside the medal positions at the World Cup since Season 10, where they finished last. It is also important to note that they have won one Silver medal as Team Scandinavia back in Season 4.

Despite those 3 teams having more medals, there is perhaps no bigger success story in the World Cup than Team Switzerland. In the IIHF, Switzerland is usually a pushover country. They took bronze in the 2010 World Junior Championships thanks to the stellar play of Benjamin Conz, but usually, they are either relegated, or are able to narrowly avoid being relegated thanks to an even more mediocre team coming along. In the VHL World Cup, however, the Swiss have 5 medals (including one in Season 4 as Central Europe). Despite the fact that 3 of the 5 medals are bronze, you still must say that the Swiss are a pleasant surprise on the VHL International scene.

Unlike in other international hockey events, you can’t count out the Swiss in the VHL World Cup

Not only that, but some of the greatest VHL players ever have donned the white cross jersey. Of the top 30 World Cup scorers, 11 of them are from Team Switzerland, including top scorer Matt Bailey.

”I would have to say a lot of my success comes from having strong teams. Yeah, I've put in a lot of individual time, but on the ice, the game is a team sport. When you look at some of the names who have played for Switzerland during my time, it's not hard to see why I've been so successful: Layken Heidt, Tomas Jenskovic, Leander Kaelin...the list goes on.” – Matt Bailey

Bailey isn’t lying, and even before his time, Switzerland dominated the World Cup scoring with guys like Scotty Campbell, who sits 3rd in all-time scoring with a mind-boggling 57 points in only 18 games.

”There was a really good early group of Swiss players - myself, Boulet and Pogge - and from there came a second generation of quality stars. That was really the catalyst for more Swiss players coming to the VHL. I think we helped to show that the VHL was a viable career path where you can go and have a lot of success, and be successful financially as well. It's tough to tell what the Swiss presence in the VHL would be like without those first few guys. – Scotty Campbell

While the Swiss can be considered a success, the Russians must be considered a disappointment. One of the dominant nations in IIHF sanctioned events, the Russians have not had a strong presence on the VHL international scene. They have 3 medals – one of each – and their last medal came in Season 10, when they took home the gold. The Russians were a part of the Scandinavian silver medal team in Season 4, and they took home silver in Season 8. Since Season 10, they’ve finished no higher than 5th in the past 4 tournaments despite having players like Alexander Beketov, Ginzou Fujiwara, and Xavier Martinez.

"In my mind, Russia has some serious issues in their junior developmental programs and this is starting to show with the decreasing amount of elite players coming out of Russia to play for their World Cup Team both on the NHL and VHL levels. With scandals, a lack of funding, and a somewhat isolationist attitude away from the NHL and other non-Russian organizations, I believe Russian players are losing their edge as a whole in international hockey.” – Ginzou Fujiwara

The influence of the KHL could definitely be a hindrance for potential Russian talent. Just like in the NHL, the amount of actual Russian players in the VHL has decreased. Could the Russians find their savior in the form of Japanese goaltender Daisuke Kanou? As we saw in the most recent World Junior Championships, the Russians have some talented young players, but the majority of them are staying in Russia, and this has definitely caused both the NHL and the VHL Russian contingents to suffer.

Finally, we have the Germans. As a 5-time member of Team Germany with 2 of my clients, it pains me to say that Team Germany is, by far, the worst team in the World Cup. Out of 9 World Cups, they have 1 medal – a silver medal in Season 10, and they have finished 5th or 6th the other 8 times. It’s not like Germany’s had bad players. Max Kroenenburg, Kaiser Straf, Christian Stolzschweiger, and many other big names have played for Team Germany. Unfortunately, the talent is spread out far too thin for the team to be a real contender.

”Germany has had a harder time recruiting other players only because it appears Germany has always had the history of being a "one superstar" team. I find that if enough German born players were to come into the league they could be a long-time force to be reckoned with.” – Joey Kendrick

Another thing I have always felt was that Germany always got the short end of the stick when it came to delegating players from other countries. While teams like Switzerland and Sweden had some good talent to play with, the Germans were left with the scraps – players whose agents had abandoned them.

”We always work with what we've got, but Germany has been affected by poor World Cup Commissioning more than any other team. They have usually been left out high and dry to fend for themselves.” – Joey Kendrick

Unfortunately, we don’t see the Germans celebrate very often

There’s still some hope for this team, as one of the league’s biggest stars, Markus Strauss, calls Germany his home. However, if he can’t get any support, I would not be surprised to see Team Germany fade away and be replaced by a different team. As a Team Germany alumnus, I hope this doesn’t happen, but it may be inevitable.

So what about rivalries? Are they as prevalent as in the Olympics or the World Juniors? Is there tension in the air when we watch games between Canada and USA, Canada and Russia, Canada and Sweden, USA and Russia, etc.?

”Not really, from my point of view. I've always hated Team Switzerland the most because Scotty and, later on, Jenskovic were on the team. The Swiss were always a lot more stacked than would have ever been realistically possible and thus it made for an entertaining storyline. – Grimm Jonsson

”I think Team Russia definitely needs to rework their development before even considering themselves rivals for Team Canada or any team in the VHL. Though the WJC showed that we still have some good talent left in players like Orlov, Tarasenko and Kuznetsov, that pool is seriously dwindling if Russia doesn't do something about it soon.” – Ginzou Fujiwara

”For sure! To Hell with Canada, man. There's definitely a mutual rivalry, but I think there's still respect between the two countries when we play. Obviously, we are competitive and stuff's going to start brewing at some point, though. – Zach Voss

Clearly, there are mixed thoughts about the rivalries, but that doesn’t change the fact that the VHL World Cup has far less absenteeism than the IIHF’s World Cup. Many NHL players decline the invitation to the World Championships at the end of the season due to nagging aches and pains, or simple fatigue. This is not the case in the VHL, and I can’t recall ever seeing a player decline the World Cup invitation in the VHL’s history.

”I think it's because the World Cup is run by the VHL, so the league has a more vested interest to ensure that it's a successful event and that the quality of play is as good as it can be. Most players see it as a real honor to lace ‘em up for their country and it's been very successful in that regard. – Scotty Campbell

However, while players will willingly suit up for their country, does the World Cup really matter in the end? Sure, the celebrations are real when a team wins the gold medal – who doesn’t love a gold medal? Still, you can’t help but wonder if the World Cup is still only a minor event in comparison to the VHL’s regular happenings.

”Winning the Continental Cup means more simply because a bigger deal is made of it. The road to the Continental Cup is a long and hard one, whereas the World Cup seems to be like a league afterthought created to give us something to pay attention to during the offseason. I am happy for winning, and I love winning with Canada, but it just doesn't seem to hold the same weight.”  -Zak Rawlyk

In the end, while the World Cup is certainly a decent experience that we do look forward to every other season, I believe that there is still room for improvement. I don’t think we can ever make a World Cup gold medal be as valuable and cherished to a player as a Contiental Cup is. Frankly, it’s the same way for many NHL players. They love winning gold at the Olympics, or the World Championships, or the World Juniors, but many of them would trade it all in for a Stanley Cup ring. However, the distinct sense of pride that runs through players when they represent their country at an event like the Olympics is not matched in the VHL. Obviously, we have restrictions that likely make it impossible for us to match the IIHF’s passion, but there must be a way to make the World Cup a little more exciting. Personally, I’m open to suggestions and hopefully our Commissioners follow suit.

End of Part 4
Special thanks to Scotty Campbell, Grimm Jonsson, Matt Bailey, Zak Rawlyk, Ginzou Fujiwara, Zach Voss, and Joey Kendrick


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...