Hockey Canada is set to announce its selection camp roster today for the 2013 World Juniors. Soon to follow that will be a careful dissection of each name, every possible lineup iteration and much talk over whether or not they will break “the slump” this year. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Team Canada squad, but this year the hype machine will be turned up to 11.
The 2004 lockout afforded Canada its best WJHC team ever. A top line of Crosby – Bergeron (who was coming off a solid rookie season) – Perry up front and a top pairing of Weber – Phaneuf in the back were the tip of the iceberg. Four lines deep, and three pairings strong, they were a menace. The guy who really sticks out as “never making it”? Jeff Glass, the goaltender. He plays for Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL, and not because there’s a lockout in North America.
The 2013 World Juniors will draw the inevitable comparisons to this lockout bolstered squad. They will be expected to head off to Russia and win the first gold medal in three years. I pity every single player who has to wear that jersey this year. They are about to walk into national bedlam.
Let me be clear about something. The World Juniors are one of the greatest accomplishments a player can have, regardless of country. By no means am I suggesting that they are hard done by in having to go play for their national team. You shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself for being the best in your country at your age regardless of what it is.
I do, however, think that absolutely nothing in life can prepare them for the immense weight they are about to feel.
You see, once a year for a few weeks, Canada unites, puts all of its hopes and dreams squarely on the shoulders of children — they are children, make no mistake about it — and waits to see what comes back. The encumbrance, under the right circumstances, could force diamonds from coal, but this is much more important than diamonds. This is for hockey bragging rights.
If they yield a gold medal the public rejoicing begins, as do the mental gymnastics required to try and figure out where this team sits amongst the greatest to ever wear the sweater. If they do not, public outcry is so palpable you can taste it in your double-double. We file them accordingly under biggest disappointments and speculate as to what has gone wrong with our once vaunted development program.
For those of us who cherish our sanity and enjoy hockey, the process is tiring. A more discerning version of myself would have Storifyed the twitter outcry last season when Canada was eliminated from gold medal contention as proof. The rhetorical questions swirling around what could possibly be going on with the World Junior squad were spectacularly short-sighted.
Some of us missed the memo which explained the other countries who show up are trying to win as well. We have become a nation of people born with World Junior gold medals in our mouths.
Three years. It’s been three years since Canada last won a gold medal at the World Juniors. And now, as we bestow selection camp honors on a select few the kettle will slowly come to a rolling boil. Each person with a Canadian passport will not only know the names of every player, their hometown, their junior team, their parents and siblings, they will also know exactly how their hockey career will project on a professional level.
That, of course, is the norm. However this year, it will all be amplified. A “hockey starved” (read: in need of hobbies) fanbase have December 26 circled on their calendars. Not because it’s a day where there are great savings to be had on electronics, appliances and furniture — but because it’s the first hockey they get to hunker down and care about.
All the power to them, I suppose.
As someone who loathes the “let’s all keep perspective” attitude noted moralizers will drop on our heads — not unlike a piano falling from height — perhaps pausing and thinking about what we’re all about to do before we head down this road is worth a moment of our time. Consider the 2012 tournament.
Last year after a loss to Russia, Canadian “fans” (read: idiots who happen to be Canadian) openly made quips about how great another Russian plane crash would be. Seriously.
On the more calculated side of things, many Canadian media members — professionals, I swear! — used Russian star Evgeny Kuznetsov as a guinea pig to perfect their hatchet job skills after his magnificent performance throughout the tournament. Why? Because they didn’t think he was very classy.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I can count the number of truly classy 19 year old guys I’ve met on one hand. Being a 19 year old male is generally an automatic disqualification for anything resembling class. I fail to see why Evgeny Kuznetsov should have been eviscerated for being 19. He probably has a lot in common with the 19 year old Canadians he beat.
Of course, we’d never see it that way.
Maybe we should try.
A year has passed on the calendar — has it been a year already? — and we are officially 23 days from the puck dropping on another World Junior tournament. Soon Canada will have 22 new adopted sons to decide the nation’s hockey morale until well after we crack the champagne on 2013. They’re the only game in town.
They’re all much more accomplished than most of us were at that age. Many of them grow a much better beard than anyone reading this ever could. And they’re about to experience more pressure than two dozen teenagers have ever experienced playing hockey in this country’s history.
Good luck, boys. I don’t envy you. I want you to win.