World Junior Hockey Fans in North America got their first taste of action yesterday as both the United States and Canada were in action in exhibition games against Sweden and Finland respectively. Both games ended 3-2 with the Americans beating the Swedes in Overtime, and the Finns taking down the Canucks.
A common trend in both games was the number of penalties called. The Americans gave the Swedes nine powerplays in their game (including two 5 on 3 powerplays), while Canada gave the Finns ten powerplays (including an amazing four 5 on 3’s in one game). Canada quite literally spent one out of every three minutes playing with a man down. Many analysts, bloggers, tweeters, and message board posters have been quick to blame the refereeing for being too “whistle happy” and calling too many chintzy penalties.
Guess what folks – you better get used to it!
IIHF Refereeing is notoriously strict, and calling every penalty (and even some non-penalties) by the book is a regular feature of IIHF tournaments like the World Juniors, World Championships, and Under-18. There isn’t much that the players on the Canadian and US teams can do about it other than to suck it up and play more disciplined. These aren’t the same guys who work CHL and NCAA games and they don’t ref on the same standards. Expecting them to suddenly change and call a more North American style of game is not going to happen.
Just remember, this is something that Canadian and American teams have had to deal with since the origins of this tournament. They have to adjust to international refereeing standards. The good news though is that over the years, many teams have done so successfully and played an extremely disciplined game. They’ve also built strong penalty killing units that have been able to deal with the inevitable penalties they take.
And so this is what coaches Steve Spott of Canada and Phil Housley of the US squad must do before games start for real on December 26th. They need to work on having their players play a more disciplined game in anticipation for the tournament, and work on their penalty killing units. Putting together a strong powerplay should also be a priority for both clubs because they should have a good many of those as well. For both teams the talent is certainly there, and now its up to the players and coaches to perform.
There quite simply is no other option for these teams, you cannot give quality European opponents multiple 5 on 3 powerplays in a game and expect to win on a regular basis. This is what the fans should be focused on as well, because complaining about IIHF refs has gotten us nowhere in the last 40 years.