Hockey fans experiencing symptoms of withdrawal from the lack of hockey on their TVs and nursing a Christmas hangover spent their Boxing Day in front of their screens. Team Canada set out for success in the beginning of the 37th annual IIHF World Junior Under 20 Ice Hockey Championship, broadcast from Ufa, Russia.
For Canadians, the WJC is always a special occasion, when one can witness the brightest young talent from teams across the world. Many of these young players will no doubt be drafted into the NHL at the end of the year.
Canada was a favourite to win the tournament, being the most decorated team alongside Russia, having won 15 gold, eight silver, and five bronze medals since the tournament’s establishment in 1977.
Team Canada began the tournament strong with four wins and no losses during the round-robin, then lost a must-win semifinals game against the U.S., 5–1.
Team U.S. later went on to win the gold medal, and Canada and Russia were left to duke it out in the bronze medal game; Canada fell short, losing 6–5 in overtime, ending the 2012/13 tournament run in fourth place.
This tournament marked the first time since 1999 that Canada finished without a medal. The sudden slump in the Canadian team’s performance has certainly not gone unnoticed by fans at home, who still recall Canada’s former domination in the IIHF WJC tournament. That domination ended only after the U20 team had won gold a record five consecutive times from 2005 to 2009.
As the team hung their heads in disappointment over their comparatively poor performance, the event nevertheless put a surge of pressure on the team and their management to put together a gold-winning team for next year. “Absolutely embarrassing that we have to end our medal streak, especially when we have a couple guys from NHL rosters,” says Kyle Kuczynski, a third-year history and political science major and centre for the UTM hockey team, referring to players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was the bright spot on Team Canada, winning the title of scoring leader of the tournament.
“It’s a shame that thousands of dedicated Canadians had to wake up at 4 a.m. to be embarrassed,” Kuczynski continued. “The team was too committed in the offensive zone, making overly fancy plays and practically forgetting about their defensive role. In order to win in the next tournament, Canada needs to play with the traditional Canadian style: hard-working, physical, and committed to both ends of the ice.”
Kuczynski said goaltender Malcolm Subban and forward Anthony Camara gave standout performances, remarking on Camara’s tremendous physical presence.
The coaching of Team Canada became a hot-button issue after the tournament ended, with many fans calling for the end of Steve Spott’s coaching career with the Juniors. For Michael Keaveneym the coach of UTM’s ice hockey team, “Canada is always a favourite to win, so them not winning is underperforming.”
“I think everyone could see that the Canadians came out really flat against the Americans,” he added. “I think it’s also attributed to the skill level of all the other countries and how they have improved. Switzerland, for example, gave Russia a run for their money, almost beating them. They lost three games in overtime or a shootout.”
Keaveney listed who he considers the top three standout players from Team Canada: Morgan Riley, Malcolm Subban, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Riley is a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect. “Watching him for the first time, I was really impressed. He’s a really strong skater and is great with the puck. It has me excited for the future,” said Keaveney.
The up-and-coming goaltender Subban also impressed him. “I’ve never seen him play before the tournament, and had heard so much about him; I was impressed,” said Keaveney. “Some of the stops he made were incredible. His side-to-side movement was awesome. Bruins fans should be excited.”
“[Nugent-Hopkins] was really a man against boys. He just dominated,” Keaveney concluded. “And although he only scored four goals, he really controlled the game. His vision and ability to move the puck was really next-level. It just shows what one year in the NHL can do for a young prospect.”