When it comes to the world junior championship, Canada's supporters are conditioned to expect success. Finishing fourth at the tournament after losses to teams USA and Russia is going to hurt, no matter how much any pointy-headed blog-writin' guy tries to impart some historical perspective.
It should not be that hard to accept that winning the world junior means balancing on the razor's edge and Team Canada is not going to be any more gifted at living on the margins than other teams. Essentially, two terrible periods — the opening 20 minutes of each medal-round defeat — sealed their fate. Unless you were in the dressing room, you will never know for sure what caused those flat starts. Know this much, coach Steve Spott will wear it:
Steve Spott: "I have the rest of my life to reflect on this and that’s not going to be easy to do." #SunWorldJuniors
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) January 5, 2013
Spott: 'There isn’t a boy in there now who feels good about himself, but I can say, as a coach, they played their hearts out' — Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 5, 2013
Criticizing decisions in the present, justifiably so, does not mean disregarding the past. While the loss to the U.S. was a convenient jumping-off point for 'it's not Canada's game' columns, it's not clear how true that has been at the U20 level.
When a team wins in consecutive years, there's a tendency to forget the narrow escapes that occurred during that championship skein. Think of the New England Patriots winning all of their Super Bowls by a field goals in the early 2000s. The point is that 5-in-a-row run Canada had recently might be an albatross. It vaulted the tournament to new heights as a media property, which probably in turns increases the risk of 22 teenagers being overcome by the moment. Frankly, the country collectively might have forgot how the bounces went Canada's way from 2005-09.
From Patrick King (@SNPatrickKing)
It’s easy to forget now how close those tournaments came to ending with a silver, or less, for Canada. There was Jonathan Toews’ shootout artistry over the Americans in the 2007 semifinal, Matt Halischuk’s overtime golden goal over Sweden in 2008, and Jordan Eberle’s last second heroics against the Russians in the 2009 semifinal.Now Canadian hockey fans are left questioning personnel decisions, line combinations, and pointing fingers at goaltenders always leaving them wanting more. It may be hard to appreciate the sacrifices the coaches and players make in representing our country during the holiday season. It’s a pressure-cooker with so little to gain and so much to lose.
They won’t return to Canada with a medal of any colour hanging around their necks — for the first time in a decade and a half — but their disappointment in themselves outweighs that of even the most cynical fan. (Sportsnet)
This is likely going to come off as weak sauce, especially knowing that there were a chunk of fans who likely chose sleep over a bronze-medal game with a 4 a.m. ET/1 a.m. PT puckdrop. But as Tyler Dellow (@mc79hockey) noted Friday on Twitter, Canada's tournament results across the last 30 years have improved when broken down into decade-long chunks.
Here is the medal distribution for Canada, 10 years at time, not including its 1987 disqualification:
A glib conclusion is that questioning Spott, head scout Kevin Prendergast and Hockey Canada for how the team was scouted and assembled is more than fair game. Jumping from there to saying there is a crisis in Canadian hockey is a stretch. It's best to wait another year or two, as tough as that might be while watching Team USA celebrate a gold for the second time in four seasons.
watching US celebrate is beautiful; glorious.but for hockey canada, this scene should be completely and utterly unacceptable.
— dave bidini (@hockeyesque) January 5, 2013
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.