Canada Should Expect Gold, But Never Assume It

The World Junior Hockey Championships have become a Christmas holiday tradition in Canada that captivates the nation and draws massive viewership ratings, even at 4AM, on TSN. Tell me something I don’t know, you’re thinking right? But it really is remarkable when you think about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love any excuse to stand up, wave our country’s flag and get behind something, not as individuals but as one collective nation coming together where it truly does seem like you can feel the energy from coast to coast. But there is an inherent flaw in our mindset for this tournament that gets revealed when, as we saw this morning, things don’t necessarily go as planned.

A large majority of Canadians who become rabid, crazed junior hockey fans at Christmas, cheering on Team Canada with the type of energy and passion that we see reserved for so few events, watch nary a game of regular season junior hockey – be it OHL, WHL, or QMJHL. For two weeks of the year, junior hockey is everything; for the other eleven and a half months, it holds niche interest at best. There are very few examples of sports which can so easily reach both extreme ends of the support spectrum.

We really know very little about these players that we get behind for two weeks during the holidays. We’re told about them by media members in the weeks leading up to the tournament, top prospects, key players and the like but never having seen them play on our own, most Canadians cannot legitimately speak with any real authority as to how good our team actually is in any particular year. Simply repeating what you’ve heard on the television or the radio doesn’t make you an expert. This leads to blind passion and often, artificially heightened expectations.

And because we’re Canada, we seem to carry with us an arrogance that since it is hockey, naturally, we must be better than everyone else. Winning five straight gold medals from 2005-2009 only served to further foster this mindset. Here’s the thing. While we know very little about own team, we know even less about other countries’ players but for some reason, we tend to assume that Slovakia and the US and Russia and Switzerland are no good. Why? Because they’re not Canada and obviously, we’re better right? Well since 2009, wrong.

It’s a dangerous game to get into, assuming superiority when virtually nothing is known about one’s opposition. We don’t see this anywhere else. Take the LA Kings facing the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs for example. With a working knowledge of the Canucks, sensible Kings fans held hopeful optimism, as fans should hold, that grew after each win. Pretty tough to find many people assuming the Kings would win though.

We don’t see this same arrogance in the Olympics either. Why? That working knowledge of what Sweden or Finland or Russia or the US can bring is there for most people. As Canadians, we’ve got that hopeful optimism, even confidence, but we’re not assuming we’ll beat anybody.

So as Canada will go a fourth straight year without a World Junior Gold Medal, go ahead, be disappointed. We should expect gold or bust at every major hockey event; we’re capable of winning any tournament we enter. But we should never – and need to stop – assuming gold. We’re finding out quite quickly that there are a lot of other countries that can find their way around a hockey rink pretty well, too.

For AFITC, I’m Dave McCarthy.