Well I can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. Even with some of the guys who were screwed over from making this team, we weren’t going into the World Juniors this year with a team that had earth shattering talent. No Nathan MacKinnon, no Sean Monahan, no Morgan Rielly, and even when we had all hands on deck in 2013 the best we finished was 4th. We are in a World Junior slump right now, and there isn’t much we can do about it.
Looking back, this now seems to be the trend of this tournament in the last 20 years. When things are rolling for Canada at this tourny, despite the fact that it is virtually a different team every single season, when things are rolling our kids can play loose and it shows. But when they haven’t won in a while, and the big moments come, they feel the weight of having not won in a while.
This isn’t just something that holds weight in this tournament. Think of Tiger Woods. Most golf experts will tell you the biggest difference between Tiger 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, and Tiger now is that other golfers were intimidated by him. There was a feeling that he was unbeatable. So when he felt he wasn’t going to lose, and nobody else felt he wasn’t going to lose, he wasn’t going to lose!
The NY Yankees had this same thing going on from 1998-2001. There were teams a lot more talented than the Yanks, but nobody believed they could beat them. Then once the Diamondbacks knocked them off in 01, they all of a sudden were beatable. So despite having MUCH more talented teams in the following seasons, teams weren’t intimidated by the Yanks anymore.
The best example of this right now in sports might be the Seattle Seahawks at home. Yes the crowd is a factor, yes the Seahawks are a damn good team. But when teams go up there to play, the Seahawks KNOW they will win, the whoever is playing them fears they will lose.
This is what Canada had going for them in the WJC from 1993-1997. You look at the first few teams to win during that gold medal streak and they weren’t dominant at all. 93 and 94 they just barely won. But in 95 and 96 they steam rolled everyone. By 1997, the Americans were the favorites to win it all yet Canada still beat them twice and won gold yet again.
Then once they lost that swagger, even teams that should have won couldn’t get the job done. In 02 against the Russians in the gold medal game they crumbled as the game got tighter. In 04 they collapsed against the Americans, blowing a 3-1 3rd period lead. Then they won in 05 and the pressure somewhat lets off.
So here we go again with another gold medal streak. In 06 they knock off more talented teams like the Americans and Russians. In 07 they tie the Americans in the 3rd of the semi final and seemingly have ice water in their veins during the shootout. In 08 they’re composed as can be after blowing a 2-0 lead and giving up the tying goal to Sweden late in the gold medal game and still win it all. In 09, the NYE game against the Americans they trailed 3-0 early, and of course against the Russians they had the Eberle goal. Even 2010 the comeback to tie it late against the Americans again in the gold medal game. They weren’t gripping. But once the choke job of 2011 happened, this team started gripping again in the big moments.
I heard Bob McKenzie say the same thing the other day, only he used the term froze. Doesn’t matter which term you use, that is far above anything else is what’s happening. These kids are all UNDER 20 years old, and I think people forget that. They see these kids play with such poise so often in the tournament and show such skill that they forget that the pressure of a nation is on their shoulders.
You can go back and look at my last 2 autopsy’s of Team Canada from the World Juniors, much of it would apply this time around. Nurse should have been on the team, especially when you see Sutter not even giving SHIFTS to Chris Bigras. We can look at all the skill that got left off the team, but we have a ridiculous amount of options in this country, far more than any other country. We can look at goaltending which hasn’t been the BEST, but has been good enough to win in most of the last 5 years. We can look at doing something different with our coaching for this tourny. Perhaps Hockey Canada looks to get a coach in Europe for the tournaments oversea’s (like Doug Shedden who has coached the Spengler Cup team the last 2 seasons). Or perhaps they look for someone not currently working in the NHL to not only coach the team but have a heavy input into scouting and selecting the players (Paul Maurice could have done that this season).
I personally liked that they didn’t have a selection camp this year and used that time to allow this team to gel more as a unit. But it didn’t work out because countries like Finland, the United States, and Russia aren’t intimidated by Canada right now. But we go nuts, Canada has lost a total of ZERO games in regulation in the round robin of this tournament in these last 5 years. The 2 loses they have were both in shootout’s. So when the pressure isn’t as intense, they beat everyone.
It SUCKS, I know. But everyone is livid and wants answers, and there probably are a few. But for the most part it is simply a case of not having that swagger that they need, and other teams having the belief that Canada is beatable. The reason we hate this explanation is that we can’t fix that, nobody has any control over that. We just have to hope that our teams get it back and Canada goes back to dominating this tournament. Just look forward to enjoying the Connor McDavid show next year in Montreal/Toronto and let’s hope he can raise the level of Team Canada and carry them to gold at home.
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