Finland's Sean Bergenheim is the latest Islander from Northern Europe to be kept from representing his country at the World Championships. He joins Denmark's Frans Nielsen as players healthy enough to be in the Islanders lineup at season's end but not healthy enough for the club to clear these assets to go play for pure patriotic pride.
When the season ended, [Bergenheim] sounded confident he would be able to play some more hockey for Finland at the IIHL World Championships beginning Friday in Switzerland. But it's not to be. The Islanders' medical staff did not clear Bergenheim for action.
Despite returning to the lineup, Nielsen was frank about how the leg injuries Mike Mottau caused still needed work:
As he said, even though he was able to skate very well in the second half, he could tell there were lingering problems the moment he stopped doing his off-ice rehab.
Nonetheless, the decision to hold back one of their brightest players did not sit well with the Danes:
"I don’t understand the decision at all," Kim Pedersen, the national team’s general manager told Berlingske Tidende newspaper. "But their answer is ‘no’ and it’s the Islanders that pay his salary."
These decisions sound harsh -- and too reminiscent of the constant conflicts between club and country that take place in world soccer. Normally I would lean toward the Bad News Bears-ish "Let them play!"
But this isn't just a money/asset stewardship thing, it's probably the prudent thing for their own good. While both would love to play for their national teams this spring, the Islanders probably did them a favor by holding them back. It's the classic case where the player is willing to put his body on the line, and its the coach/doctor/mentor who needs to step in and say, "Enough. Think about your future."
Both are developing players whose livelihoods depend on their health and performance not for their national teams but for the club team that has brought them along this far, saw their progress within the team context at the end of the season, and -- oh yeah -- pays their salaries. Neither can afford another health setback (nor can the injury-plagued Islanders) going into 2009-10, which will be yet another critical season in their respective careers.