It was Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson who dealt the first blow in Canada’s four year World Junior gold medal drought. In the year 2010, when Sidney Crosby insured Canadian hockey was being celebrated for other reasons, the goal would largely be forgotten: an insignificant disappointment nullified by a national triumph. But as history looks back on Carlson’s overtime tally in a 6-5 gold medal game victory for the United States the importance is clear. The goal represents the end of an era not just junior hockey in Canada but the denomination in general.
A year later it was the Russians who spoiled Canadian festivities. Up three goals going into the final period of the 2011 gold medal game, the Canadians would allow five goals in a completely unforeseen collapse. That game may have been the true blow to the program: since then Canada has failed to appear in the tournament final. In 2012 and 2013 they would be eliminated by the Russians and United States respectively in the tournament’s semi-final stage. Thus continues the second longest drought in Canada world junior history.
Last year was supposed to be the conclusion, as Canada has assembled a relative world junior “dream team” for the 2013 tournament. The media were comparing the team to the legendary 2005 squad considered the best ever assembled with names such as Sidney Crosby, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Gezlaf, Mike Richards, Andrew Ladd, Corey Perry and Patrice Bergeron.
Aided by the lockout, as was the 2005 team, Canada was able to field a couple of high profile names that never would have been in the conversation otherwise. Ryan Nungent-Hopkins, Malcolm Subban, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Reilly, Scott Harrington, Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Nathan Mackinnon, Mark Scheifle and Ryan Strome would all grace the roster sheet of an offensively stacked Canadian team. But after a shocking 5-1 loss to the Americans in the tournament semi-final “the dream team 2.0” will never be remembered under that name.
This year’s team is far less notable. Canada is without Nathan McKinnon, Morgan Reilly, Sean Monahan and Tom Wilson due to their impressive NHL displays. The only NHL player whose services the team was able to acquire were those of Minnesota Wild defenceman Matthew Dumba. Instead, the team consists largely of lesser known players. However, this is still a Canadian team that has plenty of stories to tell.
Brothers in arms
For just the third time, a Canadian world junior roster will feature a pair of brothers. In 2012 it was Dougie and Freddie Hamilton who skated alongside one another in the red and white. This year it is Sam and Griffin Reinhart who play their junior hockey for Kootenay and Edmonton respectively. This brotherhood has already produced a fairly hilarious interview, in which younger Brother Sam confirmed that the majority of on ice banter between the two revolves around how much they miss their dog. One can only imagine what this does for the reputation of his rough and tough brother Griffin. That aggressive style has meant that the elder Reinhart will miss the first 3 games of the 2014 World Junior tournament. The plan is that by the time he has returned for Canada’s New Year’s Eve matchup against the United States, younger brother Sam will have already started writing his own legacy.
Dislike for Dumba
In theory, as the only Canadian player released from an NHL team on the Canadian roster, Matthew Dumba should be one of the fan favourites for the 2014 tournament. But after only three pretournament games the 7th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft has already become one of the team’s least popular players. It started with a poor effort against Finland, in which he was on the ice for both of the Finns two goals. This included a shorthanded goal that was due to a misplay by Dumba. In the game against Sweden he would put the entire Canadian defensive corps in jeopardy after he received a game misconduct for injuring Swedish forward Erik Karlsson (no, not that Erik Karlsson). If he had been suspended Canada would have entered the tournament opener against Germany with only five defenceman. While he went undisciplined, some called for Dumba to be removed from the team.
Does Canada finally have a winner in net?
It seems to be a question asked every year since the drought began in 2010. With the perceived lack of goaltending quality that is becoming the media fueled apocalyptic trait of Canadian hockey, the team is looking for a savoir between the pipes who can dismiss the pressure and lead Canada to gold. That was supposed to be the role of Malcolm Subban last year, but a disappointing game against the Americans ultimately ended the team’s tournament. This year it is Zach Fucale and Jake Paterson who inherit the goaltending position. Paterson was the team’s third goalie last year, and although he never saw any action picked up valuable experience. Fucale is a pure winner, whose Memorial Cup title looked to give him the edge for the starter’s position. However, after the pretournament it appears that Paterson has won the initial lead role after brilliant performances against Sweden and Switzerland.
Redemption for Hudon
Last year Charles Hudon impressed just about everyone with his pretournament play for a star-studded Canadian roster. He appeared the kind of prototypical versatile player that Canada prides itself upon having at every level. But an injury in the final pretournament game left Hudon off the roster. Since that moment the native of Alma, Quebec has made it his person mission to earn a place on the team this year. But it unlikely that anyone would have seen it as this difficult. Returning players are in almost every instance considered locks to make the team next year in a tournament where 19 year olds thrive. However, it is highly likely that the final forward cut for Team Canada was between Hudon and Felix Girard. Luckily for the former, his tentative pretournament did not cost him a place on the roster. It almost seemed as though Hudon was remembering the injury that dashed his dreams last year and playing it safe so as to not endure that pain once again.
Counting on a 16 year old
One of the big questions going into this year’s world junior tournament was whether or not 16 year old Connor McDavid would make the roster, making a highly rare appearance for his age. Only a handful of 16 year olds have ever made the Canadian roster, including Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros. After the preliminary games not only would the answer to that question be yes, it would be an emphatic one. McDavid played some of the best hockey of his short career to make his name a requirement on the Canadian roster. Now, not only does he have a place on the Canadian roster but he has a prominent one. Alongside Sam Reinhart and Bo Horvat, McDavid has cemented his place on one of Canada’s top units. He will also get powerplay time with the second unit. He has transformed from roster possibly into key player and will need to continue to elevate his already advanced abilities.
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