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11-27-2012, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Blind Gardien View Post
I don't think there's a problem in saying there are 4 top contenders (Russia, Canada, Sweden, USA) and that any of them could beat any other at basically any level, given the 1-game elimination formats of all the big tournaments. There really isn't any point in narrowing it down further than that IMHO (unless you are the IIHF applying a ranking to tournament pool selections for example).
The answer to the question is not fixed - its evolving. After being a dominant world power, at the least on the national team level, from 1970 to 1990, the Russian hockey system crashed and burned in the 1990's as a result of the deep economic depression that ensued from the transition to the free market. The established hockey clubs went belly-up broke, and players who wanted to get a paycheck every couple of months or so had to find work in Western Europe (many were good enough to play in the NHL or AHL). An economic renaissance led to a rebirth of hockey in Russia, starting around 2003, and since then the establishment of new pro and junior leagues has led to an explosive increase in the number and quality of Russian hockey players. Bottom line, Russia lacked the depth and quality to compete for Olympic Gold in 1998 through 2006. They didn't play well in 2010, but the Russians clearly had plenty of talent to compete for the Gold Medal. Every indication is that the Russians are on the rise, and they may end up on top in the near future, but probably aren't there quite yet.

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