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From The Press Box: Guess Again

I picked Canada beating Russia in the finals at this year’s World Juniors and Sweden beating Finland in the Bronze medal game. Right — but upside down.

Our HockeyNow panel was all over the map in terms of order. We all had Sweden in the top four as well as Canada and Russia. The fourth team in all of our top four was a mixed bag.

One thing we know for sure is that Canadians suck at hockey, right? I mean it’s pretty obvious. We haven’t won gold at the World Juniors for five years, we have only won two gold medals at the Olympics out of four events (1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010), we medal every once in awhile at the World Championships (I know, I know, it’s not a best on best tournament, but something must be wrong if we can’t win gold every tournament, correct?).

This week Hockey Canada announced their roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Men’s Hockey Team. All the radio and TV stations were lit up with discussions on who was left off the team first and then talk ensued on whether we are able to win. We assume the gold, hold our breath and wait for the Games.

I, like the mass majority of Canadians, wear my heart on my sleeve especially when it comes to the World Juniors and the Olympics. I usually give the World Championships a pass from my first tier emotion level, but the best on best tournaments captivate me big time.

Overall, as Canadians, we expect to win every time. At every tournament. U17, U18, U20, World Championships, Olympics. Every time. 

So this year we lost in the bronze medal game of the World Juniors. By one goal. The commentary post event really bugged me. I am not claiming to be a development expert, but I am old enough to remember what happened in the late ’90’s when we didn’t win gold at all levels for a couple years in row. 

We had a Summit, sponsored by a beer company, to help figure out what was wrong with OUR game. I mean really, something was wrong. We lost in a shootout to the Czechs in the first Olympics that NHLer’s were involved, we had just finished eighth in the World Junior’s including a loss to Kazakhstan. So all was wrong with our game from four year old kids to volunteer coaches to 18 year old elite players and our NHLer’s.

I was shocked this year that Canada didn’t get a medal at the World Juniors. But not totally. From a hockey standpoint, the top eight countries in the world are very close. Yes we feel it’s our game, and it is, but the reality is that countries like Switzerland and Slovakia and even Germany have invested plenty of resources to get their game up to top ten world competitive level.

I frankly love the competition and the fact that we don’t see too many 12-1 games over countries like Japan or France anymore sits well with me.

The takeaway disappointing thing for me from this year’s World Juniors tournament was hands down the comments from the coaching staff after losing the Bronze Medal Game.

Brent Sutter (man I love him. I love him as a Canadian junior fan. I am a life long New York Islanders fan), but his comments questioning Canadian skill development right after the loss didn’t sit well with me. He knows way more about skill development and hockey on the world stage than I do, but to call out Canada on its skill development model after medaling 14 years in a row and then finishing fourth in back to back year is, in my opinion, pretty reactionary. I guess time will tell, but watching Drouin, Mantha, Morrissey, Sam Reinhart, Ekblad, Pouliot, Lazar, McDavid, and others my sense is that Canadian “skill” is in good hands.

As a fan I would have loved to have seen Canada win gold, but as a Canadian hockey fan I feel we are in great shape.

My top takeaways from this World Juniors Tournament:

 Home ice advantage at this event means almost nothing. Only four out of the last 21 host countries have won gold. Good luck Canada in TO and Montreal next year.

There is a reason Drouin was sent back to Halifax by Yzerman this year. He needs to grow up. The amount of whining and lazy swing checks and head bobbing was terrible. In between that he showed world class skill, but he needs to mature to be a true leader.

The Russians continue to be an enigma. One game it seems no one cares, the next it seems every player wants the gold.

Canada needs to figure out a way to take less penalties.

Detroit (Mantha) and Montreal (Hudon) made great picks. These guys might take a couple years, but their skill is off the charts.

10 of the first 60 players taken in the 2013 NHL Draft were on Team Canada (and several that missed the cut were in that top 60).

Ottawa has to be thrilled with our 2010 Minor Hockey Player of the Year – Curtis Lazar – easily the best all round Canadian this year.

Here’s to a great year in 2014.

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