No man can live on St. Louis Blues hockey alone.
Alright, so I lied. Of course we could live solely upon Blues hockey, but that doesn't mean we are not interested in hockey more generally speaking. Any truly committed Blues fan will cast an appraising eye not only in the direction of Peoria (Hi Manny!), but also towards the NCAA (How's it hangin' Cade?), or the major junior circuit in Canada (Suck it up Alex!).
However, in this semi-regular segment I will look even further afield to the realm of International Hockey. You remember International Hockey... the shit they play in the Olympics and whatnot. Well, it turns out that a boat load of countries one wouldn't normally associate with hockey, or with people who would know how to skate, or with naturally occurring ice, actually play the game at the international level. As this is World Championship season, I thought it would be good to give folks a preview of hockey in the rest of the world.
So, lets start at the bottom of the freakin' barrel...um, I mean let's start with the "up and coming" hockey countries. In IIHF terms that would be the Division III Championships being held in Dunedin, New Zealand in April. The lineup of nations winging their way down under is a veritable Who'sWho of improbable participants.
Greece (nickname "The Fighting Pederasts"):
The Greeks return after a less than stellar 2008 performance. They actually had to play their way into 2008 finals via a qualification tournament against the Bosnians and the Armenians. (Yes, there is a level of international hockey below the lowest level of international hockey.) Once they got to the finals they went 1-3-1 (W-L-OTL), beating Mongolia (10-4) and losing to South Africa (ha!), North Korea, Turkey (that had to hurt!) and, wait for it, Luxembourg in OT. I'm hoping blueliner Ioannis Giatagantzidis is on the team this year, and that he scores a ton, causing the suicides of stadium announcers in New Zealand. "Greek goal scored by number eight, Ion-neees Gia... um... Gigantic...uh no... shit...goal scored by the fucking Greek guy."
Ireland (nickname "The Hayseed Hoosiers"):
The Irish are pissed, probably. They were relegated out of Division II after losing every game in their 2008 tournament. (Romania was able to squeak past the Irish by a score of 21-1.) Lord knows the Irish Ice Hockey Federation is pissed because they have to send their shitty team all the way to Dunedin, New Zealand. "Could this damn thing be any further away? Where the fuck are you going to have the 2010 tournament? At Ice Station Zebra on the Antarctic ice shelf?" I, for one, am hoping that goalie Jonathan O'Driscoll has a chance to improve upon his .565 save percentage from 2008. Bring plenty of Guinness lads.
Luxembourg (nickname "The Fighting Postage Stamps"):
Luxembourg finished third in the 2008 Division III Championships behind (now promoted) North Korea and South Africa. Actually, they played pretty well in 2008... they lost a couple one goal games and with a lucky bounce or two they could have been the ones promoted. Of course, maybe this is God's way of telling them "You have finally achieved your proper level in life. It's not my fault that level kinda sucks." Forward Benny Welter was the sniper in 2008, netting five and finishing with seven points in five games.
Mongolia (nickname "The Fighting Yak Herders"):
What can I say about Mongolian hockey that hasn't already been said? What is that? Nothing has ever been said about Mongolian hockey? Well, according to the IIHF website Mongolia has 66 male hockey players skating on the three outdoor rinks in the entire country. (I'm thinking a pick up pond hockey game would be out of the question.) This helps explain how they went 0-5 in 2008, and managed to give up 48 more goals then they scored. They may not be much as hockey players, but they have All-World names: Zolboo Dorjsuren, Odsaihan Tsogtsaihan, and the incomparable Bayrsaikhan Jargalsaikhan. (I'll have to find a way to break it to my wife that I now want to name our first son Zolboo Oshie Horton.)
New Zealand (nickname "The Fighting Not-Quite-Australians"):
Relegated back to Division III after failing miserably against such hockey powers as Mexico, China and Spain, these plucky Kiwis hope to make hay on home soil. I can only hope they also plan on playing some hockey as well. I have to think this team is a heavy favorite for promotion back to Division II. (I looked but couldn't find a sports book taking bets on Division III international hockey...what is that? No, I don't have a problem...but I did see the Blues are listed as 200-1 shots to win the Stanley Cup this year on ZedBet, the same odds as Toronto and Phoenix. Sheesh. That sucks.)
Turkey (nickname "The Fighting Doner Kebabs"):
The Turks finished in fourth place in this tournament last year, tied on points with third place Luxembourg. Talk about a split personality; Turkey spent much of the 2008 tournament either getting blown out (7-1 by South Africa, 8-2 by North Korea) or blowing people out (11-3 over Mongolia, 9-1 over Greece.) For that reason it is hard to take them seriously as a threat to go up to Division II this time. But one must fear Cengiz Ciplak! Evidently Ciplak has QMJHL experience and basically is the entire team; he's the Evgeni Malkin of Turkey. He didn't play for Turkey in the 2008 Championships (which could help explain the results) and I cannot figure out why. However, I have found his Facebook page and I've asked to be his "friend" so maybe I can find out. (Yes, I can annoy people internationally.) Turkey's addition to the All-World name team: Ufuk Guclu.
Grudge Match: April 11th, Ireland v. Luxembourg
This game is a rematch of the winner-take-all last game of the 2007 Division III tournament, which Ireland won in a shoot-out. This result meant Ireland was promoted to Division II for 2008 while Luxembourg remained in Division III. Expect tensions to run high among the 10-12 people who have travelled from Ireland or Luxembourg to watch this epic battle. Dunedin police have been informed that they may not be able to take their usual afternoon nap in case of a flare-up.
So, there you have it. Everything you didn't want to know about a level of hockey you will only find in shaky hand held clips on YouTube.