CALGARY — Some Canadians — for all intents and purposes anyone who considers themselves part of Eric Francis' royal "we" — are reacting badly to being denied their birthright, the world junior hockey gold medal.
This is not about Francis going after a 19-year-old who can't yet even defend himself in English like the Calgary columnist and Hockey Night in Canada panelist did today with a hit piece on Russia captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov. One almost has to assume this was an attempt at satire that worked too well. but that would be giving him too much credit. It is sad that in 2012, some media personalities still believe there is a vast audience in Canada itching to read a takedown on a teenager who helped his team beat Canada in hockey and rakishly tweaked the crowd of 18,000 who booed him. We are better than that; not everyone still thinks Canada is the only country that knows how to play the game and act on the ice.
Rather than focus on Canada losing its composure and digging too large a hole to overcome in the 6-5 loss, Francis went after the easy target, depicting Kuznetsov as a selfish Russian. In fairness, it's not like there's any better storyline with the Russian team, like their chance to win a gold medal a little more than four months after the Lokomotiv air tragedy. Here it goes:
[Kuznetsov is] a heck of a talent, but not much of a teammate.
He was the one who selfishly tried to score on the empty net in the final minute by icing the puck and giving Canada another shot at tying the game.
Smart, team players don't do that.
Players trying to pad stats do.
He was also the one who showed little humility while accepting his player-of-the-game award by putting his hands up to his ears to encourage the booing that rained down on him.
Some call it being a character.
Others call it being classless — the kind of thing a kid who scores nine points on midget players would do. (Calgary Sun)
So the adults in the arena who booed Kuznetsov get a free pass. The same goes to several thousand fans who rudely headed toward the exit while the Russian anthem was being played after the game rather than respectfully remaining in their seats for two minutes. Shame on any naif who thought fans might remember this is international hockey, where the custom is to stand for the anthem of the winning team's country at game's end, even when that anthem is not O Canada. (Sounds crazy, eh?)
Slamming Kuznetsov for trying for the empty-netter is beyond ridiculous. Russia was gassed and barely holding off the oncoming Canadians. It was worth risking an icing call and a defensive zone faceoff when a goal would have iced the game. Even a whistle in that instance gave Russia a chance to catch its ninth wind. And Kuznetsov didn't miss by much.
Meantime, if Kuznetsov was such a bad teammate, why did coach Valeri Bragin make him captain? Why was he the lone forward put out during two-man penalty kills, as Corey Pronman pointed out? Why did he put the presumably impressionable younger stars, Alexander Khokhlachev and Nail Yakupov, on Kuznetsov's line?
Of course, nuance such as that gets lost when there's a jingoistic agenda to be served. It just beggars belief Francis would write that in good conscience, although keep in mind it is Sun Media, where many of columnists often give the impression they don't even believe their own pandering malarkey.
Scott Wasilewski had a pretty good rebuttal to Francis' nonsense on skates:
Forget the fact Kuznetsov has seven assists this tournament. Forget the fact as a captain, Kuznetsov should be the one to be "selfish" on the ice and want to be the one to have the spotlight. Forget the fact that if Jaden Schwartz or any other Canadian would have done it, he would have been touted as a great leader — the fact remains that this is just another point of Eric Francis ignorance and the fact him being a columnist is a bit of a joke, especially considering he took the time out to focus on the bad side of Kuznetsov's game rather than the Canadians melting down as they did.
Kuznetsov may be a little wet behind the ears — sure, but at the same time; he did what any captain should do and make the heat and take the heat one way or another. He backed up his comment about looking forward to facing the Canadians and did what he needed to in order to get his team ahead (read: jawing/consoling Boone Jenner).
While Francis says that Kuznetsov is not much of a teammate, how does he know that?? Has he watched him this whole tournament-- because I know I haven't seen him in the media scrums in the mixed zone while I'm down there. Plus, if being selfish gets the job done, what does it matter how he is on the ice in terms of "being a teammate"? Francis isn't in the room, he hasn't talked to the players, he hasn't done the leg work to get the actual beef of this story to see if Kuznetsov is actually a team player or only in it for himself. It's pure assumption. (The Strangest One of All)
Francis should not get too much scorn. He's just doing his thing, being a well-paid bomb thrower on a deadline. Credit him for turning that piece around in time considering it must have been hard to see the computer screen through his tears. This is really about the fact we should challenge the assumption that Canadians can't handle defeat in hockey well, since a honest heartfelt belief here is most hockey-liking folk in the country can do so. Let 'em know we're better than the media pandering reflects. And if we're not, it's time for serious collective soul-searching.
Kuznetsov's act probably did rub some people in Canada the wrong way. So what? That's their problem to work out. It's not on him. Canada's focus should be on what its team could have done better, not how the Russians behaved in victory. God forbid we could be so intellectually honest.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).