Reflections on the WJC: Still Proud, Canada

Still Flying the Colours
Still Flying the Colours

About an hour ago, everybody watching the World Junior Hockey Championships (including the half dozen viewers south of the border in Bronzeland*) saw one of the most gutsy comebacks in the history of junior hockey unfold on our television screens.

Trailing 3-0 at the outset of the third period of the gold medal game, a gutsy group of teenagers stormed back to claim a stunning 5-3 victory over a traditional rival.  If you’re reading this blog, there’s a safe bet you got redirected here from a hockey-centric site, so it’s an equally safe bet that you know the result by now.  The kids who walked out of Buffalo with the gold medals were wearing Russian, not Canadian, sweaters.

You can bet your sweet ass (yeah, you…I been lookin’, I confess) that if the roles were reversed, those of us here in the Great White North who like to write about hockey (and for sure those who get PAID to do it) would  be trumpeting to high heaven the virtues of the brave Canadians who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.   We would be right about that.  It’s no less true tonight because the kids who stormed back from oblivion were yelling Russian (rather than English) swear words into the camera during the post game.  Give these Russian kids their due:  it took skill, guts and heart to come all the way back in such dramatic fashion in front of a building filled with 18,000 people desperate to see you fail.   Enjoy that win, Boris, Igor and Dmitry:  you earned it.

There are those – in the media, in the coffeeshops of this nation, and in the blogosphere – who will want to call the Canadians “chokers.”  The word “gutless” will get pulled out.  Synonyms will be sought for “embarrassment” and “travesty”.  Give it a rest.

Look, I think I understand the proper role of sporting events like this in our culture: they’re a diversionary entertainment.  Part of the fun of watching is rooting for your team to win.  Part of rooting for your team is caring about the result, and part of the fun of rooting and caring is trading good-natured jabs with your rivals.  In the run-up to the Canada-U.S. game, our American friends were doing a little shit-talking about the beating their defending champion team was going to put on our entry.  It was fun to watch virtual Canadian gums flap back at our Yankee brethren as the game unfolded and it became evident that our red and white rocked, while their red and white just blew.  There will be some chirping back and forth now and in the future that refers to this stunning collapse, and that’s as it should be (though it seems to me that the ones who’ve earned the right to do the chirping use a cyrillic alphabet;  anybody who lives in the land of White Castle and bronze medals, on the other hand, would do well to remember their place in the Pecking Order of Puck).

All of that heckling and kidding around is as it should be.  But don’t let anyone try to seriously tell you that the group of kids who wore the red and white for us this time around should be “ashamed” or “embarrassed” or anything like that.  Yes, they got their asses handed to them on a plate.  Yes, it was because they stopped skating at the critical moment and allowed their Russian adversaries up off the mat long enough to administer the knockout blows.  But watching Brayden Schenn, Ryan Ellis  and Mark Visentin look into the camera and own all that just minutes after suffering what must have been a profound disappointment – at their young age – speaks volumes about the character that was in that dressing room.  Before you disagree, think back to when you were 18 or 19 years old, and imagine how you would have behaved if YOU had suffered that kind of setback on national TV.

I’m proud of those kids.  I wish like hell the result had been different, but there you have it.  Things like this happen in junior hockey.  We’ve seen them before;  things like this are what the legend of Jordan Eberle is built upon.  We had seen some pretty epic comebacks from this very Russian team earlier in the tournament.  In fact, during the 2nd intermission, Dmitry Chesnokov was lamenting the apparent death of the Canada/Russia hockey rivalry here in Canada (guess what, Dmitry? It’s ON, brother).  He then opined that “this loss will hurt.”

I was struck by his apparent certainty that the Russians would go down.  I tweeted back at him:

@dchesnokov Not trying to be a jerk here, but are you writing off your guys even though they pulled off those comebacks vs FIN/SWE?

He wrote me back:

@warwalker coming back from 3:0 against Canada will be Miracle on Ice part III

Before the period began, I wrote back to him one more time:

@dchesnokov Of course I hope you’re right, but things happen fast in junior hockey. I never thought Canada would come back in ’09.

No sooner had I hit the “post” button, it seemed, and Russia pumped home a goal.  Then two.  Not long after, there were three.   You know the rest.

Ironically, TSN’s telecast began tonight with James Duthie taking viewers on a tour in the Team Canada dressing room.  The tour ended in the vicinity of a quote from Aleksander Yakushev (a Russian player from the ’72 Summit Series) to the effect that Canadians “never stop” trying until they get what they want.  It was a reminder for the players of what we like to see reflected in ourselves by way of our approach to this game, a tribute from a respected rival.  The Russians have earned from us a tribute to their heart;  their determination; their guts.  Focussing on what happened on the Canadian side of the ice ignores and diminishes the significance of the accomplishment on the other bench.  Russia, your guys played a hell of a period when the chips were down.

In the end, this was a game for the international junior hockey scrap book.   For every collapse, there is a comeback.  There are those who will want to make this about the failure of Team Canada rather than the success of Team Russia.

See it for what it was: the best of sport, both in the drama of the competition between two great rivals and in the dignity, class and respect for the game and their opponents that the losers showed in the aftermath.


* Oh relax, my American friends.  It’s a joke.  You know, like your team’s defence.

UPDATE: Pierre McGuire Still Ridiculous

My earlier post on Pierre McGuire’s controversial system of anatomy was picked up by Puck Daddy.  Kudos to Greg Wyshynski for choosing to shine a light on Pierre’s ridiculous dissembling about this hit.

A few minutes after I posted the video (and my writing on the subject) last night, I saw another clip on TSN where the panel discussed Zack Kassian’s hit on Petr Senkeris.  As you’ll see in this clip, to Bob McKenzie‘s credit, he’s no longer really disputing the fact that Kassian’s hit on Senkeris was high, calling it a “pretty obvious” penalty.  Good for him.

As for our friend Mr. McGuire, it would appear that he has abandoned his novel Chinstrap Impact Postulate (by which the wearer of a helmet may – remarkably – cause himself to be struck in the area of the teeth, otherwise known in this logical construct as “the chest”, simply by loosening the chin strap).  Ah well, theories and theses are often abandoned rather summarily in the hurly-burly world of exploratory physics.  Replacing the Chinstrap Impact Postulate, however, is a Theory of Temporary But Extreme Random Opacity, according to which some unknown physical phenomena appeared near centre ice at the HSBC Centre last night, and then briefly disrupted the properties of all light waves emitting from the general vicinity of this collision, causing certain portions of the event to be temporarily but totally obscured from view.

I wish him better luck with this theory.

Oh, and to the YouTube commenters who want to talk about the Czech player “having his head down”, “needing to be more aware, etc.” – please wipe the spittle off your chins and go back to watching Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em 9.  You’ve missed the point again.

Pierre McGuire: Blind or Just Obsequious?

Not pictured: Tin Foil Hat Mr. McGuire Should Be Wearing

Like most of Canada this time of year, I was watching Canada/Czech Republic at the World Junior Hockey Championship from Buffalo last night on TSN.   For the second game in a row, Team Canada started in a bit of a sleepwalking mode and surrendered an early goal.  Also for the second game in a row though, the young men on this team (to their credit) sucked it up and stormed back to dominate the game.  By the end of the first, though the score was only 2-1 for Canada, it was clear that this game was going to be a rout;  in the final half of the  period, long stretches of play had unfolded without respite in the Czech Republic’s zone. It was only a matter of time before the Canucks lit the lamp a few more times, and the Czechs were showing no signs of any offensive spark.

That is indeed how the game unfolded, with Canada cruising to a 7-2 win.  So dominant were the Canadians in this game that it became a bit of a dud as far as entertainment value goes;  with the result never really in doubt after the first ten minutes, there wasn’t much to keep a viewer glued to the tube in this one.

What little excitement there was ended up being provided by Zack Kassian’s second period hit on Petr Senkerik.  Specifically, the excitement arose from the fact that Kassian hit Senkerik in the head (not to mention rather late).  Kassian’s bodycheck appeared to knock the Czech forward unconscious.  He was removed from the ice on a stretcher, and Kassian was assessed a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct.

Now, I have watched this tournament and cheered for Team Canada every holiday season for as long as I can remember.  I want Canada to reclaim the gold medal pilfered from us last year by a plucky American squad.  I have nothing against Zack Kassian.

But Kassian’s hit on Senkerik was a blow to the head.  I saw it.  The referees saw it.  Probably something like 4 million Canadians saw it.  For some reason, though, TSN analyst and notorious loudmouth Pierre McGuire either didn’t or wouldn’t see it.  Almost immediately following the play, he began braying that Kassian was being penalized unjustly.  As he did so, TSN’s own replay clearly showed – from two angles – that McGuire was wrong.  It is not possible that he failed to see these replays, which were shown numerous times by the network.  Having noisily and publicly committed himself to a differing version of reality, however, the obnoxious McGuire continued to assert something that was, and is, obviously not true: that Kassian had hit Senkerik in the chest with his shoulder.   To my eyes and ears, McGuire came off as stubborn and ridiculous as he repeatedly decried- and I do mean repeatedly, no horse being too bereft of life for Mr. McGuire to administer yet another beating – the inequities visited upon Kassian by the presiding officials.   Silly and annoying, but mostly harmless.

Where McGuire took things to another level was during his post-game analysis as part of TSN’s panel.  Unsurprisingly, the stubborn McGuire clung to his misguided version of events; incredibly, however, he actually claimed that the impact was caused by Senkerik’s failure to properly secure the chinstrap on his helmet.  It was good of TSN’s Bob McKenzie to gently, if only implicitly, chide McGuire at the outset of the panel segment (McKenzie claimed that when he first saw the clip, he thought Kassian had struck Senkerik’s chest, but that after reviewing the clip again, he had begun to believe it was a head shot), but someone on the panel, either moderator James Duthie or McKenzie himself, ought to have called McGuire on the ridiculous assertion that Senkerik’s loose-fitting headgear was responsible for the impact.  McGuire’s assessment of these events makes about as much sense as a person believing that John F. Kennedy would have fared better that fateful day in Dallas if only he had been wearing more sturdy footwear.

Nobody on TSN called McGuire on his ridiculous blabber;  HiR:tb’s elves in the A.V. department, however, took a wee break from chug-a-lugging egg nog and sleeping under their desks to bring you the following video summary of the incident: