So Canada lost. Big deal. In fact, as far as international junior hockey goes, Canada losing is almost best case scenario. The tournament is just not competitive enough. Even though they have now lost two years in a row, Team Canada has been nothing short of dominant over the past 20 years. They have been to ten straight Gold Medal games, and twice over the past 20 years they have had streaks of five straight gold medal victories. To put that in perspective, only the Russians have even won more than five gold medals total.
Not only has Canada virtually perfected winning, the other teams seem to be sliding. The Czech’s won back to back gold medals, around the time they won Olympic gold in Nagano, but they have been a huge disappointment over the past five years. Many people had strong hopes that the Slovaks would build a powerful junior program the way the Czechs had in the years after their separation, but they have also disappointed. Sweden seems to be treading water, but the Fins recent junior struggle make Finland’s future as a top hockey power seem in doubt. The Swiss seemed to have a break-through a decade ago when they won their bronze medal (their only medal to date), but since then they have not really improved at the junior level.
Russia? The Ying to Canada’s Yang on the top of the international hockey world’s pedestal? This is their first Gold medal in 8 years. Their slide has been perhaps the most dramatic, and the reasons are simple. The players in the tournament over the past few years were ALL born in the years after the wall fell. They grew up in the 90s when Russia as a state was in complete economic chaos. Money to fund and develop minor hockey just didn’t exist. As a result, these players did not benefit from the same rigorous level of training and development that previous generations of Russian (or Soviet) hockey players did. NHL teams are avoiding their prospects like the plague, and the number of Russians in the NHL as been cut in HALF since the lock out. To me, that makes this achievement far more significant. Maybe I am getting old, but I didn’t take this loss as hard as other years, even though the manner by which they lost was rather gut-wrenching. I was proud to see our countries greatest rival succeed during a period of time where one (for reasons already mentioned) might expect them to fail.
None the less, virtually no country other than Canada has shown sustained junior hockey development over the past twenty years. The tournament has not been competitive enough. For anyone who says it has, I come back to this point: TEN STRAIGHT GOLD MEDAL GAMES FOR CANADA. The tournament has turned into a “who will play Canada for Gold” derby. Sure, Canada has lost the past two years, but anything can happen in a one game tournament. Quite frankly it’s the only “non-TSN-manufactured” drama during the whole two weeks.
But a wise man once told me “Don’t tell me your problems, tell me your solutions”. Okay, so that old man was my father, and it was more like “I don’t give a **** (excrement) about what’s wrong, What the **** (Fornicate) are your going to do about it dumbass?” My proposal is simple.
1) BREAK UP TEAM CANADA!!!
- Make it Canada East and Canada West.
- As for Ontario, if you play in the OHL west, you play for Team West. If you play in the OHL East, you play for Team East.
2) Reunite Czechoslovakia
- Admittedly, I’m not even sure if they would want to do this, but Czechoslovakia was a far more powerful hockey nation that the Slovaks and Czechs have ever been (Dominic Hasek not withstanding)
3) Create a “Team Northern Europe”
- Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and Latvia have exactly ONE World Jr. medal between them. They have been playing hockey in these countries for decades, and but for that one Swiss breakthrough, they don’t really appear to be going anywhere. However, they have produced many great individual players over the years. If you pooled their talent, they would be far more competitive.
4) Create “Team Eastern Europe”
- This would basically be a way of re-uniting all of the countries who have broken away from the Soviet Union, excluding Russia. Think Belarus, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Ukraine. Like team Northern Europe, these countries have never had any success at the World Jrs but they have developed a pile of quality individual players. I think putting them together would be great way to make the tournament more competitive.
And there you have it. My World Junior tournament would be far more competitive. It would consist of Team Canada East, Team Canada West, Team Russia, Team USA, Team Sweden, Team Finland, Team Northern Europe, Team Eastern Europe, and Team Czechoslovakia. Yea, that’s 9 teams, but who cares. If you have a real problem with it, put Sweden and Finland together. Whatever the case, I think that this tournament would be way more interesting to watch.
The Americans are a recent success story on the international jr hockey scene, and I really do think that USA Hockey has turned the corner and will challenge Canada for world dominance in the coming decades. However that is ONE team, ONE program, and they have only recently revamped their program. Thus, they have not shown an ability to sustain it, so I could be wrong about them.