Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Rethinking the Meco Cup

Although it would be easy to criticize the structure of the 2012 Meco Cup because the Canadian Under 22 women’s team failed to capture a gold medal, the reality is that the concept of the tournament was somewhat compromised. Traditionally, the Meco Cup (formerly known as the Women’s Air Canada Cup, followed by MLP Nations Cup) was a tournament for teams representing their respective countries with female players under 22 years of age.

The 2012 edition was radically different because Canada was the only country to ice a team in which every player was under 22 years of age. Other countries had summoned their senior national teams, while others had a blend of players, both under and over 22 years of age.

If the concept was to provide parity, it hardly mattered as the most dominant countries of women’s ice hockey (Finland, Sweden and Canada) topped the medal podium. The key difference was that Canada finished with a bronze medal. Although Canada bravely battled on against some difficult odds, did any of the other countries truly gain more confidence by fielding teams that had over 22 players?

Although Finland earned its first ever gold medal in the tournament, does this win give them the confidence to take on the Canadian and/or American senior national teams? Hardly. By not having the tournament truly take on its Under 22 concept, a false sense of superiority is being created.

Had Canada not had players such as Marie-Philip Poulin and Melodie Daoust drop out of the tournament, there is no question that a gold medal would have been within reach. Still, the idea is that only players under the age of 22 should compete. The core value of the tournament should be to give players under 22 the opportunity to further develop their skills and gain experience on the international stage. By having countries bringing teams with players of various ages, it prevents many younger, deserving players from having an opportunity to continue to represent their country.

What needs to be done with the Meco Cup is to restructure the tournament so that Under 22 players can truly gain confidence, while playing against a suitable level of talent. Rather than have Pool A and Pool B compete in a medal round, it might be more suitable to crown a champion for Pool A, and another champion for Pool B. Pool A can be the elite teams, such as Canada, Finland, and Sweden. In addition, a fourth team could be comprised of a European Under-22 All-Star Team. By having the elite Europeans outside of Finland and Sweden form an All-Star squad, they could truly gain more confidence and test the mettle of the elite countries. The countries in Pool B would be restricted from competing against Pool A teams, thus ensuring that all competitors in Pool B feel a more elevated sense of competition.

While the IIHF and many elite players and coaches from Canada and the United States are striving for parity in the game (which is truly needed to ensure its survival internationally), the one concept that has eluded them is the concept of a European All-Star team. Although this would not be allowed for Winter Games or World Championships, a tournament such as the Meco Cup is the perfect training ground to attempt such a concept. When one considers that the quality of NCAA women’s ice hockey has increased dramatically with the involvement of more Canadians and Europeans, a European All-Star team would help elite European players learn from each other, while giving them the confidence to not only become winners, but to become leaders.

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