At the time that I am writing this, it’s been approximately 3 hours and 55 minutes since the world as we (read “we” as: “I”) know it crumbled to dust right before the eyes of thousands of Canadian hockey fans. 3 hours and 55 minutes of shock followed briefly by each of the stages of grief, and finally landing on what is as close to acceptance as you’re going to get from me.
I think the first thing I need to clear up though is that of course I hold no actual harsh feelings towards any of the players. They’re all so young and it would be idiotic and just plain wrong of me to place any severe expectations on them. Sure, they were playing for the country of Canada, but they were also playing for themselves and who they are is a group of boys learning and growing from any and all of the experiences they’re given, including this one. They already carried the weight of playing for a country that is so involved with the sport through their whole stint within the tournament and it would be cruel to throw it back into their faces when it’s obvious they played their all.
With that being said, this particular team Canada faced adversity before they even set foot into the tournament. In my older article, which you can read here, I went over what Canada was missing and how it would affect the workings of the team. Their entrance into the competition was not easy, and their first (and only) pre-tournament loss came from the hands of none other than team Finland themselves. That was the first sign that Canada’s road to victory would not be an easy one, and when they lost to Russia, securing Finland as their quarter-final competition, it was definitely something that was in the back of many Canadian’s minds as the game approached.
The Canadians put up a fairly strong front and an even stronger defence in their showing against Finland in the quarter finals. Mikey DiPietro made an astounding 39 saves, looking steady and solid in net for Canada. The first period was quiet and even for both teams, leaving it at 0-0 by first intermission. But 1 minute and 23 seconds into the second period, Canada’s forwards Barrett Hayton and Morgan Frost set up their defensemen Ian Mitchell for a successful goal against the Finns. Canada’s intense effort within the game kept their 1-0 lead until the last 47 seconds of the third period, where Eeli Tolvanen scored the goal that forced the game into overtime.
Just after 1 minute of play in OT, Tolvanen was called for a hooking penalty during a breakaway for Canada. This resulted in Canada receiving a penalty shot and it left Tim Hunter with the important decision of choosing who would represent Canada and possibly win them the game right then and there. He ended up choosing this year’s Captain Canada of the world juniors, Maxime Comtois, to take the shot. Comtois lead the Canadians in goals for the tournament and was often seen capitalizing on plays made by his teammates. What many say he also did a lot of though was over react to hits he received from player of other teams. The supposed embellishment Comtois exhibited throughout the games he played got commented on by many (loosely termed) sports professionals, even Russian player Klim Kostin expressed his thoughts on it. And maybe, just maybe, that ‘karma’ he had acquired had a part to play in how the game ended, as Comtois’ shot didn’t make it into the Finnish net despite the perfect opportunity.
Just a few minutes after the penalty shot, Aarne Talvitie slipped the game winner behind DiPietro and won the game for Finland. I immediately turned the game off because I was in public at the Sens vs Canucks game and I couldn’t stand to see the faces of the Canadian players after they just lost one of the most important games of their lives so far without bawling my eyes out. One of the worst parts about the loss was that it was on home soil, marking this year as the first time Canada placed out of the world junior medals while playing on Canadian soil. In a place like Canada, where hockey is a large staple of many people’s lives, it’s especially hard to deal with the pressure of doing well. How these young boys were able to even just skate off of the ice and get through interviews with the utmost class and dignity is something that deserves to be respected and applauded.
I would be lying if I said that this was one of Canada’s strongest teams that they’ve put forward in the world juniors tournament, but it definitely is not one to dismiss as something to forget. What the Canadians did as a team this year was important. Starting off with a 14-0 blow out and carrying the momentum into two more consecutive wins against Switzerland and the Czech Republic is something that will be unforgettable to many, especially the players themselves. What the boys achieved out there was something to be proud of, no matter what the final outcome was. The way they played brought joy to many as it grew bonds and celebrated the sport of hockey with the country as a whole.
I don’t speak for the rest of Canada obviously, but for what it’s worth, the excitement and willingness in which the players of this team approached the tournament and what they could learn from it made it all worth it in my eyes. Of course the loss was disappointing, but I don’t blame a single person on that team for it. The immense amount of hard work they put in and the lack of reward they received was something hard to digest, but the experience and memories that they gained from the tournament will be remembered in their minds forever. For many, it was their last chance to play in the world junior tournament. Of course this wasn’t the most ideal outcome, but what I hope happens is that they learn and grow from it to transform them into even more stunning hockey players. These boys are the future, and their search for victory is far from over.