We all saw the headlines.
“Epic Fail”, “Woe Canada” and “Choke Artists” are just some of the few that I remember reading after Team Canada blew a 3-0 lead in the third period last week to lose 5-3 to Team Russia in the final of the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo, New York.
And I’ll admit, I was one of those that took the Internet, more specifically Twitter, to tell all that would listen that Russia didn’t win gold, Canada lost it.
I criticized the goaltending, the defense, heck, even the coaches did not escape my wrath.
After having some time to reflect, I realize I may have been a bit harsh on our junior stars.
We Canadians put an incredible amount of pressure on these kids, forgetting sometimes that they are all still teenagers.
And while it’s hard not to have such lofty expectations (remember the run of five straight gold medals in the 90’s, or five in a row this decade), we also need to remember that, in sports, there is no such thing as a guarantee.
Isn’t the chance of a David slaying Goliath why we all watch these events anyways?
We, as a country, went into this tournament as the underdogs, with the host Americans expected to dominate the competition en route to a second straight gold medal.
This was a team, after all, that wasn’t really expected to make a whole lot of noise at the tournament, especially considering they were lacking at least three stars, those being Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and Jeff Skinner, who would have made the team had they not made their respective NHL clubs.
Let us not forget that while some, myself initially included, may have thought Canada choked, the Russians played a hell of a third period.
And based on how they played in the tournament, how could we have NOT expected the push back that we saw in the gold medal game from our long time rivals.
Russia opened the world junior tournament with back-to-back losses, a 6-3 setback to Canada included, and many were expecting that to be it for them.
But they kept going and eventually, through hard work and skill, found themselves in the quarter-finals where they fell behind early to Finland before storming back to take the game in overtime.
It was the same story for Russia in the semi-finals, where they trailed Sweden 3-2 in the third period before forcing overtime for a second straight game, and eventually winning 4-3 over a Swedish team that many thought would end up playing the USA in the gold medal game.
So should we really be surprised that Russia did it again in the gold medal game?
Forward Zack Kassian told reporters after the game, “I don’t think we ran out of gas. They just took over.”
Remember, this was also a Russian team trying to avenge an embarrassing sixth place finish in Saskatchewan in 2010, and in the third period of the 2011 tournament, it just looked like they wanted it more than Canada did.
They didn’t want to lose yet another gold medal to Canada, as they did at the tournament in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Isn’t it funny how quickly everyone forgets those triumphs by Team Canada?
At the end of the day, for all my early complaining about how Canada fell apart in the third period, I’m very proud of those young men for the effort they put forward at the tournament.
They kept alive a streak that has seen Canada medal at every tournament since 1999, a feat matched by no one else.
So what if they lost to Russia?
We’ve beaten them more than a few times, and, as a wise man once told me, “It ain’t a rivalry if one team wins all the time.”