For hockey-crazed fans in Canada, the end of December and early January means one thing: World Juniors.
Like every year, expectations are high for the 22-player group of 16, 17, 18 and 19-year-olds that are lacing up their skates and donning the maple leaf in Malmö, Sweden.
Although Canada is known as the world’s greatest hockey power — notably for winning gold at two of the last three Winter Olympics — success has been tough to come by at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 World Junior Hockey Championship.
Gold medals define success for Canadian hockey players at the international level. At the World Juniors, a competition Canada used to dominate year-in and year-out, there has been no success of late.
Canada has failed to win gold at each of the last four World Juniors — two of which were held in the Great White North.
Although they collected two silvers and one bronze, the 2013 team didn’t even medal. The last time that happened was in 1998 when host Finland won it all.
So, is Canada regressing as an international hockey power?
While the recent World Juniors results haven’t been up to the standard, most Canadians still hold our hockey players in high regard and would say that isn’t the case.
Our country still churns out some of the best hockey players to be drafted and suit up in the National Hockey League year after year.
But we’re talking about the World Juniors, and at that championship Canada has lost a step on countries like Sweden and the United States. Combined, those two nations have won three of the last four gold medals.
And don’t forget the archrival Russians who tend to excel on the bigger European ice surface.
Canada opened this year’s tournament with a 7-2 win over Germany thanks to five straight goals to end the game. Then again, the Germans aren’t an ice hockey power, having never medalled at the World Juniors.
Still, the opening game victory gives hope to Canadian fans hoping to see the boys bring home gold medals for the first time since 2009 in Ottawa.
All editorials are written by the Times-Herald editorial staff.