Ahhh, Christmas holidays. A time filled with joy, tradition, freakishly cold weather, World Junior Championships and hockey arrogance.
For as long as I can remember, Canada has dominated the annual World Junior Hockey Championships. Without taking anything away from some of those All-Star teams (frankly, that’s what some of those teams were), I can’t help but note most of their opponents weren’t exactly in the same weight class. I can think of several World Junior Championships that saw Canada destroy every single team they faced, including their opposition in the gold medal game. It wasn’t even close.
But those were the old days and things have changed considerably since then. Canada, and to a lesser extent Russia, aren’t the only gold medal hopefuls anymore. They aren’t the only two good teams in the tournament. They aren’t guaranteed a gold medal showdown each year. Nations like Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, the United States and others have developed some seriously talented teams in recent years and are credible gold medal threats too.
Because Canadians are used to seeing their team win, I find there’s an awful amount of arrogance that surrounds the World Juniors (it was doubled last year with the Olympics in February). Maybe it’s me, but it’s like Canadians as a whole dismiss other strong hockey nations simply because they don’t have the same history of winning. It’s like we, Canadians, disregard other countries on the foundation that “they didn’t invent the game.” Or that they haven’t played the game for as long.
Here’s a hockey reality check: the gap between Canadians and other nations is getting smaller by the day.
The US are probably the best example of that. Somewhere in the not so distant future we’ll see more US-born players drafted into the NHL than any other nation, including Canada. The US, and other countries, are producing some great young hockey players that are just as good as most Canadian players (exception: that Crosby kid… he’s pretty good). I think Canadians sometimes ignore that, particularly around WJC’s.
I have no problem with Canadians wanting their team to win. I have no problem with Canadians being disappointed if a gold media isn’t captured. I do have a problem assuming a Canadian team will win gold each year or calling it a “massive failure” if some other nation simply outplays them. As other nations continue to improve at hockey, losing could happen more often than we’re used to seeing. I see that as a great thing for the game.
Canada’s not the only strong hockey nation anymore. Other nations have caught up (or just about). Just because hockey is so ingrained in Canadian culture, doesn’t mean other countries don’t know how to play the game well, and possibly play it better. That golden ticket to the gold medal game doesn’t exist anymore. More Canadian fans need to accept that.