As much as I love hockey and as much as I love Canada (I have a Canadian flag tattoo on my back), I do have to admit that Canada is no longer a dominant force in World Junior hockey. It pains me to say it, but it’s true.
Slowly but surely Team Canada is being backed off by other hockey nations. The proof is in the pudding. After dominating everyone for years, medalling 14 years in a row (1999-2012) and winning five consecutive gold medals (2005-2009), Canada has now failed to even reach the podium for the past two tournaments.
Our last gold medal was in 2009 when we beat Sweden 5-1 to complete the ‘Drive for Five’. We then lost 6-5 in overtime to our enemies from below the 49th parallel, the evil United States of America. At the time no one thought much of it other than “Oh well, the streak had to come to an end sooner or later. But we’ll start another one.”
Well, the people saying that had no idea how correct they would be. Canada did, in fact, start another streak. A streak, not of success and gold, but of horrible failure and bitter disappointment. Yes, Canada won back-to-back silver medals in 2010 and 2011 (or rather, lost, because you lose to get silver, not win). Canada then picked up the bronze medal in 2012 with a 4-0 victory over Finland.
But since then Canada has done nothing special. They’ve finished fourth in back-to-back tournaments with two of the worst Team Canada’s ever assembled.
The most recent one, the 2014 edition, was particularly terrible. The management staff opted for a different selection camp set up. Instead of inviting a bunch of players to compete for roster spots, the management opted instead to name 25 players to the team and then whittle the roster down to the final 22. What that did was eliminate the need to compete for a roster spot. They also left players off the roster who would have most likely made a positive impact on the team (blueliner Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, forward Max Domi of the London Knights and goaltender Tristan Jarry of the Edmonton Oil Kings to name a few) and named a couple of players to the team that had no business playing for Canada (Jake Paterson and Mathew Dumba are two examples).
On the other side of things our competition (the Finns, Americans and even the Swiss) have opted for a more Canadian approach. As a matter of fact when Team USA beat Team Canada in the 2010 gold medal game in Saskatoon they did so with a Canadian approach. They built their team like Canada would. They even used the same selection camp method (the first time they had done so) that Canada had done in their previous gold medal winning years and beat us, quite literally, at our own game.
Now I hear what some people will be saying. They’ll be mentioning how the players are just kids and that there is too much pressure on them and that people shouldn’t get angry over them losing.
And you know what? That’s true. People shouldn’t get angry over Team Canada losing, if they put forth their best effort of course.
But in recent years it seemed as if apathy was the enemy of many of the Canadian players. This past tournament it wasn’t so much Team Canada losing as it was 22 individual Canadians on the ice seemingly not caring. There was no team work or heart on display. The only game they truly showed up to play in was against the United States (which, I do admit, is a game which is always important to win, something they did once again and hats off to them).
How can Team Canada battle this Godless, gold less streak? They need to get back to what has made them nearly unbeatable for so many years.
They need to play physical. They need to hammer the European players into the boards constantly and beat them into submission.
They need to play smart and they need their coaching staff to drill the thought of teamwork into the player’s heads. Yes physicality will lead to penalties, especially with European reffing (not an excuse, it’s simply more strict across the pond). However, that didn’t stop Canada from winning gold five straight years.
Canada needs to get back to its own game. It needs to play good, old fashioned, Canadian hockey. If they do that there is no doubt in my mind that they will once again be golden.