Canadian Juniors shutout in shootout

Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart

on January 2017 | in Sports | with No Comments

OK, let’s just be clear about this. Shoot-outs suck. Period. Earlier this year TFC lost the MLS Cup in this skills competition and now Canada loses 5-4 to the US at the World Junior hockey tournament. These two teams were so evenly matched that it shouldn’t bother anyone which team won in the end as both were very deserving. It was a great way game spoiled by how it ended. I can’t think of anyone who would rather see a shootout rather than see the winner decided by another period of OT hockey. The game is just too important for it to be decided in this manner.

If you have to ask yourself why the World Junior hockey tournament means so much to Canadians, well then you don’t know much about sport and you don’t know much about Canadians either. Each year something special, exciting and always unexpected happens when watching these young, great athletes perform under the unforgiving pressure of a world championship. The stories that are created leading up to the tournament and those developed throughout it our woven into the very fabric of our Canadian tapestry just as those god-awful ugly Christmas sweaters are. Basketball has its NCAA Final Four March Madness but hockey, well hockey owns the frozen weeks over the holiday season in this country.

In fact during this time, Canadians have become quite accustomed to certain expectations. We expect to celebrate (or over celebrate) the season with family and friends. We expect to see those ugly sweaters soaking in drops of gravy and stretched out over our turkey-filled bellies. We also expect the Canadian Junior hockey team to win gold. Period. Yes Canada has won 16 gold medals heading into 2017, 3 more than 2nd place Russia, but that isn’t enough as winning is such a fleeting feeling. Just ask the Finns who won gold last year to not even win a single game this year and finish 9th.

That is why this tournament means so much to Canadians, because year after year we have to defend what we feel is already ours. That’s not a great feeling for fans or players alike, but the truth of the matter is that many times we don’t feel like we won the gold medal, it feels more like relief that we didn’t lose it. At least, that is what it was like during the mid-90s and the mid 2000’s when Canada had won 5 straight each decade. Things are different now though. Canada has only won one gold medal heading into the tournament this year and they weren’t even the favourites. But as proud as we are of the Silver medal they won and of the players, there will always be questions surrounding a loss.

Despite winning their first few games, uncertainty mired this team. Could they win with a team that had to “score by committee”? Which is the polite, Canadian way of saying we don’t have a superstar that can dominate like Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros or Jonathan Toews did. Could they win without a superstar goaltending performance like they received from Carey Price or Steve Mason? Well offensively they were up to the challenge as different players stepped up each night. Tyson Jost, Taylor Raddish, Dylan Strome and more recently Anthony Cirelli and Julien Gauthier have stood out while blue-liner Thomas Chabot has been solid throughout. The goaltending on the other hand has been worrisome. Coach Dominique Ducharme has been flipping between goalies Connor Ingram and Carter Hart. It really doesn’t give the fans or players much confidence when his choice isn’t based on which goalie has won the number one spot, but by which goalie didn’t lose it. Ironic how the worst goaltending performance was on the same night as the best goaltending performance as Ingram let in 2 goals in 3 shots against their semi-finalist opponents, the Swedes while Hart came in and stopped the next 28 shots leading Canada to a victory.

In the end, it wasn’t goaltending at all that failed this team but their inability to hold a lead. Twice Canada had a two-goal lead and twice US battled back to tie. Hmm, a team of young players who play exciting hockey but not able to hold a lead? Sounds quite familiar in these parts doesn’t it Leaf fans?

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