Canada “finnished” before the semifinal at the World Junior Hockey Championship for the first time since 1988
Logan Kruppa, Staff Writer
You may think that Canada’s fate at the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship in Helsinki was merely an anomaly, a fluke that can safely fade from the memory of Canadian hockey fans like a bad dream. Unfortunately, the tournament may in fact be a harbinger of upcoming struggles for Canadian hockey.
Canadian fans have become accustomed to watching their team dominate at the World Juniors. Canada was never behind for the course of the entire tournament last year in Toronto and Montréal. This year, Canada faced deficits in all games, including even allowing Denmark to score first.
Canada often was outclassed in this year’s tournament. The speed of the Finnish team and the finesse of the Swedes posed difficult to deal with. Even when Canada did have chances to take command of a game, they just weren’t shooting enough. A five-minute power play against the United States yielded only one goal in the latter half of the power-play, when one more goal would have seemingly shifted the game in Canada’s favour.
Canada’s team as a whole seemed to lack discipline, and no player stood out more for that than Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen. A Vancouver tabloid deemed him the “goat-medal winner” after his penalty nullified a potential five on three power play against Finland.
The biggest bright spot for Canada was Matthew Barzal, who added offensive firepower even when the rest of the team around him was not clicking.
There are some potential issues with Canada’s development system. A recent National Post article highlighted that other countries are starting elite youth hockey programs that identify elite skill at younger ages than Canada bothers evaluating. Canada’s national program also tends to leave training up to major junior hockey teams during the regular season. Other countries now are training players with national teams even as their club teams have their regular seasons ongoing.
The fact that other countries in the world are catching up to Canada in hockey might be most apparent during the NHL draft. TSN.ca predicts that Canadians will not be picked in the top five of the NHL draft, which would be unprecedented.
Time will tell, but it seems that the World Junior Hockey Championship indicates that other countries may well be up to the challenge of playing against Canada for years to come.