The World Junior Hockey Championships are now over and what do the results tell us? Here is one interpretation.
Best Team At The Tournament
After missing the medals for the last two years and not winning the tournament since 2009, Canada was clearly on a mission and played like it. With the exception of Sweden, they beat everybody who was anybody. They were the team to beat and played that way in every game of the tournament.
Jekyll And Hyde
This team was clearly the second best team in the tournament but they struggled against lowly Denmark, lost to a bad Czech team, lost to Sweden… then beat Sweden, the USA, and nearly beat Canada.
How Did They Win A Medal?
They beat all the bad teams but when they played anybody good they were badly outclassed. Final Score: Canada and USA 16, Slovakia 1. They beat a demoralized Swedish team still in shock from losing to Russia (Canada has played that way too in the bronze medal game after losing the semi-final). Still this is the first medal they have won since 1999 (also a bronze) and that means you have to recognize positives; they are moving in the right direction. But they should not be fooled. They need lots of improvement if they are going to be a true contender.
Sweden defeated by Russia
USA defeated by Russia
Sweden had a long winning streak against Russia and beat them in the preliminary round and clearly expected to beat them again, but Russia caught fire in the playoffs and shunted them aside. Similarly, the USA was good enough to at least make the semi-finals, but unfortunately drew Russia, which had been struggling in the preliminary round, lost their sense of discipline and paid the penalty.
Should Have Won A Medal
Sweden has been the most consistent team in the last three junior tournaments but the unexpected demoralizing defeat to Russia, whom they had handled in the preliminary round, sickened them and left them with a lousy feeling and Slovakia beat them for a ho-hum medal. They’ll go home thinking they should have gone farther.
Going In The Wrong Direction
Once upon a time they were the number three hockey nation in the world but they haven’t won a medal since 2005 and haven’t won this tournament since 2001. They could have easily been playing in the relegation game against Germany instead of Switzerland. Their junior program needs a drastic overhaul to return their team to where it once was. They will be hosting this tournament in 2020 and they had better smarten up by then.
Do You Really Want To Improve This Tournament And Make Hockey A Better Sport?
(Addressed to Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland) but about Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany
The only good thing to say is that Denmark has improved enough to be competitive – at least against bad teams and good teams having an off night. But these teams keep getting promoted and demoted to and from the B Level and are seldom true contenders. Since this tournament started in 1977, Switzerland is the only other country outside of the “big seven” to win a medal (a bronze in 1998). Do you really want hockey to grow? Do you really want better international tournaments both at the junior and professional level? That means coaches and managers from the “big seven” countries have to go to these other countries (Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Belarus, Italy, Austria, Latvia, Ukraine, Poland, France, Norway, etc.) and develop the sport. Denmark and Switzerland’s improvement means that it is not lack of talent or enthusiasm for the game that is holding these other countries back. At one time hockey bragged it was going to be the number two sport in the world behind soccer. The “big seven” have done a lousy job improving the game in the 42 years since Canada vs USSR. This tournament could be a group of 16 teams, not 10. If curling can do it, so can hockey.
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