By Rob Ficiur
This past week Canada celebrated a Gold Medal victory in the World Junior Hockey championship. Why do Canadians love this junior tournament?
1. Holiday Season Hockey – The bulk of key games are played during our holiday season. Between Christmas and New Years’ many businesses are closed or are working reduced hours. The preliminary round began this year on December 26, a day we traditionally have as a holiday – so what else is there to do besides watch hockey? The games take place during a time when we have time to watch.
2. Week (ish) long tournament – The ten day tournament is longer enough to get our attention and short enough that we don’t lose focus. The eight week NHL and NBA playoffs lose fans as the series go on. In ten days, hockey fans seem to get more interested as the games go on. We know that Canada will earn a place in the medal round, so the three game preliminary round is a warm up for the playoff games that matter.
3. Sudden death playoffs – Once the playoff round began on January 2 the loser of each game went home. Even in the five years when Canada went without a Gold Medal, the team did fine in the round robin. Come the sudden death playoff round Canada, like all the other teams was out of Gold Medal contention when they lost a game. One bad bounce in a close game and bye bye Gold. Two bad bounces, and bye bye all medals.
4. See hockey stars of tomorrow – This year Canadian hockey fans became familiar with Connor McDavid, Max Domi and Sam Reinhart. Long time hockey fans will remember Tie Domi and Paul Reinhart as NHL players. Now we see their sons playing at the top of their age group. Seems odd to think of a Domi as a scoring machine rather than a fighter, but that is the fun of meeting tomorrow’s NHL stars in this tournament. For two years fans have heard that Connor McDavid will be the next Sidney Crosby or Mario Lemieux. For most of us this was the first chance to see McDavid play. For someone who just came off a broken hand it was easy to see how good a player Connor McDavid will some day be in the NHL.
5. Sometimes Canada loses – While Canadians love to see their team win – we know that a gold medal is not a sure thing. When hockey first became part of the Olympics, Canada won by huge margins. In the 1924 Olympics team Canada outscored their opponents 110 – 3; the closest game being a 6-1 win over the USA.
It was not until Canada’s fifth Olympic Games, in 1936 Winter Olympics, that we lost our first game. Nowadays, while Canada is the favorite most years, we know that a win is not a forgone conclusion. I don’t think that Canada’s 1928 Olympic Games were that entertaining as we won 11-0, 14-0 and 13-0.
6. Canada Usually Wins Gold – Since the World Junior tournament Canada has won more Gold Medals than any other country. Gold Medal count is as follows: Canada 16; Soviet Union 9, Russia 4; Finland 3, USA 3 and Czech Republic 2. The first decade of the tournament the Soviets dominated, winning gold seven times from 1977-1986. Since 1987 Canada has won gold 14 times; the rest of the world has combined for 13 World Junior Gold Medals.
Canada usually wins gold – but often they put fans through heart failure – like in 2015 the Canadian team that never trailed in the tournament opened a 5-1 lead in the Gold Medal game, and then hung on to win 5-4; allowing several last minute Soviet shots on goal… just to keep fans on their the edge of their seats…
With the 2015 Gold Medal secured, Canadian hockey fans know that it is only 346 days until the 2016 World Junior Hockey tournament begins.