When Team Canada falls short of a world junior championship medal, everyone is going to sweepingly generalize, including Don Cherry. That's why CBC pays him the big bucks.
You know what portion of the anatomy theories are likened to. Like any proud Canadian hockey fan, the Hockey Night in Canada commentator had one after Canada's gold-medal hope evaporated with a semifinal loss to Finland on Saturday in Malmo, Sweden. Rather than zero in on what failed to go right for Canada during the game, Cherry returned to his hobby horse of assailing Hockey Canada's omissions — Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Connor Brown; ex-Leafs tough guy Tie Domi's son Max Domi, a Phoenix Coyotes first-rounder; and Edmonton Oilers first-rounder Darnell Nurse, a defenceman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. All three played minor hockey in the greater Toronto area.
It starts about 90 seconds into Coach's Corner.
"I'm gonna tell you why we lose," he said. "It's politically correct as far as I'm concerned ... OHL has nine guys, 41 per cent [of the 22-player roster] ... the players on the team. WHL, seven, five are from Quebec. It is politically correct. I'm telling ya right now, we can't take too many from Ontario. If 22 guys are the best from Quebec, we should take it.
"That is an absolute joke not to have Darnell Nurse out there. Only [Griffin] Reinhart was drafted into the National [Hockey] League higher. Can you believe that? Only Reinhart and he doesn't make the club?"
And it just goes on like this, with some reference to a Cole Hobert — would that be Bo Horvat from the London Knights? — and Domi.
Philosophically, Cherry is on the same page with many media and fans who are exasperated by Hockey Canada's approach to short tournaments. The world junior goes through cycles, of course. After five years without a Canadian gold, it's hard to argue against the notion the selectors overthink the roster composition by taking role players and leaving high-end talent home.
I will say this. I'd rather Canada's selection process go back to the 20 best players and get away from the concept of "picking a team."
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) January 5, 2014
That probably got lost by throwing around "politically correct" as a blanket term.
Hockey Canada usually makes sure each major junior league is represented on the coaching staff and among the captains and alternate captains. The truth is that coach Brent Sutter would not have taken on a high-stress position just to be a puppet and service agendas.
The five players from the Quebec league included two returning players (Jonathan Drouin and Charles Hudon), three NHL first-round picks (Drouin, Anthony Mantha and Frédérik Gauthier) and the first goalie taken in the most recent NHL draft (Zach Fucale).
The seven-player Western league contingent included Sam Reinhart, a top prospect for the next NHL draft, as well as four players who were top 20 picks in the NHL. The other two are Nic Petan, who led major junior hockey in points last season, and Taylor Leier, who is captain of a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks team.
A philosophical shift to take the most offensively potent players would not shift the OHL-QMJHL-WHL ratio much. Nurse would probably have bumped out, say, Chris Bigras, a Colorado Avalanche prospect on the OHL's Owen Sound Attack who barely saw the ice in Canada's final three games.
Cherry wasn't totally off, but overall no one is the wiser thanks to drive-by media making broad statements about Canadian junior players after the fact. The postmortem should focus on the specifics, namely, why the four iterations of Team Canada have rolled snake-eyes in big games.
The TSN analyst Bob McKenzie noted on Sunday, "My theory is that it's between the ears, Canada is fearful of losing."
While many people point to increased parity at the under-20 level, there might be something else there. Canada's rivals seem able to play a high-paced skilled game. The old-school way — "The Canadian ideal of 'we can push people around,' gets neutralized," to quote TSN's Ray Ferraro — doesn't have the same currency it did in 2006 or '07.
That's manifested into Canada handling adversity poorly. Or perhaps the coaches and players, labouring under a flawed approach, did well to prolong the inevitable before the roof fell in.
— Jan. 4, 2014, Malmo: Canada gets outchanced 10-3 in the second period of the semifinal and falls into a two-goal hole vs. Finland. It musters three shots in the third period of a must-win game.
— Jan. 3, 2013, Ufa: Canada gives up three early goals in a 5-1 semifinal loss to eventual gold medal winner Team USA.
— Jan. 3, 2012, Calgary: Canada crumbles in the second period of the semi, eventually digging a five-goal hole to Russia before falling 6-5.
— Jan. 5, 2011, Buffalo: In the gold-medal game, Canada builds a three-goal lead but shifts to a shutdown strategy late in the second period. Russia rips off five goals in a row to take the gold.
A greater mind could tell you whether that's the source of the problem. It's not on the players. There is huge turnover on Team Canada from one year to the next. There is a question about talent and how athletes' nurture teaches them to respond to stress. Coincidentally, last winter Sutter pondered whether the evolution of hockey into a 12-month sport is raising a generation who doesn't know how to respond in tough times, beyond saying the right things to adults.
“It is so noticeable on a hockey team that the kids who have played other sports and experienced different things are always the smarter players on your team, and they are able to handle adversity better,” Sutter said. “They deal with adversity better because they are thrown into different environments and they trust their skills that they may have learned elsewhere to get them through certain things.” (Edmonton Journal, March 3, 2013)
That sounds like a better starting off point than Cherry misinforming viewers and pandering to regional resentment. His defenders will point out that was a conduit for some discussion, so it's not all bad.
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.
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