Still the one
It's not easy to raise Steve Tambellini's ire.
But if you want to, just mention the notion that Canada has lost its prestige in a) the National Hockey League, and b) on the world stage.
That will definitely get you Tambellini's attention.
"That's nonsense," says Tambellini, the director of player personnel for the Vancouver Canucks. "Whoever says stuff like that does not know what they are talking about."
The facts support Tambellini.
From Salt Lake City to Helsinki and many points in between, Canadian hockey reigns supreme.
It has been quite the run atop the podium for Canada during the last two years, and no other hockey nation came close to casting such an imposing shadow over the global hockey map.
The string of success began with men's and women's gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It continued on until last May when Canada won the 2003 World Championship gold medal in Helsinki. Five impressive tournament championships happened in between.
A select under-18 team won gold at the Eight Nations tournament in Slovakia, in August, 2002.
A women's select team won the Four Nations Cup tournament in Kitchener, Ont., in November, 2002.
Canadian pros playing in Europe and other players picked up from minor-league clubs in North America won the Deutschland Cup in Hanover, Germany, in November of '02, and a similar group won the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, a month later.
The under-18 men's national squad emerged victorious at the world championship in Yaroslav, Russia, last April.
The National Women's Team, 35-0 in winning seven straight world titles, missed the chance to make it eight straight when the 2003 Women's Worlds in Beijing was cancelled due to health concerns. The women will defend their world title at the 2004 championship tournament in Halifax in April.
The only major piece of international silverware not in Canada's trophy case was the 2003 World Junior crown. Russia defeated Canada by one goal in each of the last two finals, including a heart-breaking 3-2 loss at the '03 World Junior in Halifax last January. But you could hardly consider a silver-medal performance a blemish.
"As difficult as it is to win a championship, it's harder to stay in top once you are there," says Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson. "It doesn't mean we can sit back and rest on our laurels."
And what the impressive run has shown people is that Canada produces skilled players at all levels of the game. Canada's perch atop the podium also answers many of the questions raised about the state of Canada's development system which were raised by the Open Ice Summit in 1998.
The summit was a by-product of losing the 1996 World Cup of Hockey to the United States and the general consensus was that the Canadian development system was in need of not so much an overhaul as a jump-start.
The results speak for themselves.
Besides the world stage, consider Canada's place on the NHL map.
Canada always has been the most dominant producer of players for NHL teams. There was a time when NHL teams were 100 percent Canadian tried and tested, but those days ended when the League expanded from the Original Six teams to the 30 clubs that dot the NHL map these days.
Expansion meant the need for more talent, and hockey was no different than any other industry in that it went global and sought out players in Europe. Critics point to a parallel demise in Canada's share of the NHL pie, given the abundance of talent in Europe and the desire of Europeans to want to play in the best league in the world.
But Canada remained in the majority and they have not relinquished that spot atop the perch.
This season, 52.1 percent of the players on opening-night rosters were Canadians. That number was down marginally from last season (53.6), but most important from a Canadian perspective is that it seems to have levelled off after a couple years of being in decline.
Tambellini points to the role Canadians are playing on NHL clubs to drive home the point that Canada is still producing skilled players.