New Year’s resolution season is upon us, as if some ancient arbiter decided that I am a bad enough person to be required to make superficial changes to my life when you throw out the old calendar. It’s as if it isn’t bad enough.
Moral objection doesn’t just stop at rules we need to make for ourselves after a season of gluttony. I spend the season cramming my face full of cookies and roast beef in between coughing fits from the cold that my snot-nosed older brother gave me, and the last thing I really need is for Stephen Brunt to complain about the way I watch sports during the holiday season, admittedly somewhat lazily.
The “topique-du-jour” on my Twitter feed after Canada beat the Czechs 5-0 Wednesday at the World Juniors was the fist-pump made by goaltender Petr Mrazek after stopping Canadian player Ryan Stone on a penalty shot. This was an outrage that lasted less than 48 hours, until Mrazek, in one of the most animated performances I’ve ever seen from a goaltender, not only stopped 52 pucks, but celebrated like a little kid on the street pretending he’s playing Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Followers of the OHL will tell you just how good Mrazek is, and I don’t necessarily want to focus on his performance. It was outstanding,
but his hilarious motions in the game’s latter stages of the Czech Republic’s 5-2 victory to effectively eliminate the Americans from the tournament. Not only were fans no longer booing his quirky outbursts, but they were chanting his name at the conclusion of the game. The goalie banged into the glass after his team scored, fist pumped more virogously than he had Wednesday after stopping Josh Archibald on a penalty shot, and made fingerguns motions into the crowd after the anthem had been sung.
But on Wednesday, you couldn’t fist-pump, not without hearing the boos of some fans who were naturally displeased that their team failed to take a lead. “Hockey’s future stars are quickly learning that wacky celebrations don’t win over the crowd,” suggested the Edmonton Journal’s Aaron Hutchins.
Canadian fans feel like hockey players to keep the post-goal stuff simple: stick up the air, tap on the head for line-mates, and high-fives along the whole bench.
Act like you’ve been there before—that’s the Canadian mantra.
I presume that this writer hasn’t seen a game in this tournament for the last ten years, since every Canadian goal is accompanied by a celebratory fist-pump or customary run into the glass. Yes, even the Canadian players react wildly when things happen and it isn’t just a situation reserved for Europe, so quit your mock indignation. They’re kids, and this is just a game, and though you may not be thrilled, there’s no reason to need to attribute traits to players by nation. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play hockey, just like there’s no ‘Canadian’ ‘Swedish’ or ‘South Sudanese’ way of playing hockey. Hockey is hockey, celebrations are celebrations, regardless of whether or not the player riding on his stick is a veteran Canadian player against his old team or a young Swedish man against Switzerland.
If you aren’t cheering for your own country at this tournament, you’re probably cheering for the underdogs, who happened to be the Czechs on Friday against the Americans. On the other side, it’s nice that half of the country, un-exposed to the fun-loving wacky Mrazek, get an afternoon to cheer him on. All credit in the world to Mrazek for making the most of the opportunity because it may be a while before he’s in an arena with 16,000 fans cheering his name (after all, he was drafted by Detroit).
Then, of course, the tired argument that there are too many blowouts.
“It was a tough one for Denmark, coming up from the B pool,” said winger Boone Jenner. “But we just tried to keep playing our game, just play simple hockey.”
“It’s not like we were trying to run up the score,” added forward Brendan Gallagher. “We’ve been on the other side of those, all of us have, and it’s not a good feeling.”
At least two Canadian players were quizzed on running up the score against inferior opponents, but does anybody at these tournaments even bother to ask the players on the losing team? They’re all too pleased to be responding to questions and laughing it up at their own staged press-conference. What’s a reporter going to ask them? “Can you keep it quiet? I’m trying to get people to explain how much fun you’re not having.”
My Dad and I went to the tournament in Ottawa a couple of years ago, and for the gold medal game, we sat right in front of several members of the Kazakh team, who had been relegated after going 0-6 at the tournament and being outscored 60-4. Yet they were pleasantly smiling and enjoying watching hockey. We yukked it up with them, and a few talked some trash about how they were favouring Sweden in the upcoming game against Canada (although a couple were cheering for the Canadians, because they had played against them in the tournament). Nowhere did I detect feelings of regret from players who were probably not going to continue playing hockey professionally. Most of them are just happy to play in front of thousands of cheering fans they’ve never played in front of before.
If there’s an argument to be made about the over-exposure of the World Juniors, is that everything, including down to how the fans cheer, is going to be scrutinized by somebody. Can’t we all just watch some kids play hockey when there’s nothing else on? It’s fun, and I’m glad that Mrazek understands that, and I’m glad that the hypocritically partisan fans in the stands knew that as well.