Hockey Canada has a lot of questions
Team Canada/CP photo
Team Canada is coming home without a medal at the world junior championships for the second consecutive year.
It is the first time since 1978-81 that Canada has not medalled in two straight under-20 tournaments.
Team Canada got what it deserved. They weren’t the third best team, let alone the best team at the prestigious international event.
The team looked sluggish throughout the tournament, with their high point being their performance against the United States on New Years Eve. Their most disappointing effort was their 5-1 loss to Finland in the semi-final.
Like last year, the Russians won the bronze medal. On Sunday, they celebrated a 2-1 victory over Team Canada.
Russia scored early on a shot from Mikhail Grigorenko that deflected off Matt Dumba’s skate and past goaltender Zach Fucale. The Russians then scored again on a long shot from Eduard Gimatov that Fucale probably would want back, but he was slightly screened by a defenceman.
The Canadians lacked energy in their semi-final loss to Finland the night before and it seemed like they couldn’t find that drive to compete until Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Josh Morrissey scored on a deflection in the third period.
However, with Fucale on the bench for the extra attacker with a minute left in the game, it appeared that Canada lacked the desire to win – lacked the urgency to score that tying goal to lengthen their tournament hopes of winning a medal.
It looked like they just gave up.
No one in this country should be or can be too critical of this team, as they are all 19 years or younger. They are still young and make mistakes. They are still learning to perfect their games. They will struggle and stumble.
However, Hockey Canada has a lot to ponder after another devastating finish at a tournament where they once won five straight gold medals.
“We have work to do. We need to look at our program, how we do things and try to get better,” Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’ director of hockey operations told reporters in Malmo, Sweden after the loss. “I think we need to look at our overall program and how we are doing things and try to get better.”
A lot went wrong at this tournament and over the last four years Canada has dropped a bomb in an elimination game. This is the first time that Canada has finished out of the medals in consecutive years since Hockey Canada adopted the Program of Excellence in 1982.
So, what is the root cause of Canada’s problem at this tournament over the last couple of years?
There are a lot of theories, including goaltending, other countries getting stronger, coaching issues and lack of skill development.
Goaltending wasn’t the problem for this team this year. Jake Paterson tried his best and Fucale was strong when needed, including making a sensational save against Finland. He did his part in trying to help Canada win games.
This team lacked scoring, despite the elite offensive talent that head coach Brent Sutter brought to Sweden. In their final two games, they scored just two goals.
Not only did this team struggle to score in crucial moments but this team looked frozen when the game was on the line.
“My theory is that every team in this tournament gears up to beat Canada like you wouldn’t believe, and the Canadian mindset in these elimination games, these semi-final games, it’s more long the line of we’re terrified to lose more than we are determined to win. I think there’s a psychological gap there,” said Bob McKenzie on TSN after the game. “I get the sense that these kids are more burdened with the level of expectation.”
The pressure for these kids is high and they feel like they let down a nation when they lose. That shouldn’t be the mentality from them or from the fans.
For Hockey Canada, they hope things can return to ‘normal’ as the tournament returns to Canada next year in Montreal and Toronto. The team will also have 11 players that are eligible to return, including Fucale and Connor McDavid.
Until then, Hockey Canada will continue to process and look into their program. As they should.
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