Thursday, 6 January 2011

Where It Hurts

There's nothing worse for a male than taking one to the berries. Getting kicked in the grapes is an age-old trick that can reduce a male to a puddle in mere seconds, and too often it happens to men when they are least expecting it. You've probably seen it a thousand times on video replay shows and "America's Funniest Videos", but when it happens to you, it is less than funny. In fact, if hit hard enough, you feel like you want to vomit. Thanks to the Canadian boys' spectacular collapse at the World Junior Hockey Championships, I believe that all Canadian hockey fans have the same feeling that many men have had after taking a swift kick to the gonads. And this pain will be felt for some time. We're talking swollen and bruised after this latest heartbreak.

Up 3-0 heading into the third period, Canada was twenty minutes away from their sixteenth gold medal. Russia, looking like a team that had been battered and bruised, suddenly turned the tables on Canada with speed, skill, and a swagger not seen since the days of the Soviet Union.

They deked. They juked. They shot. They scored. And they absolutely destroyed a country's confidence in their selected heroes. And it hurt. It hurt bad.

However, Canadians shouldn't be surprised by this. After all, the majority of these Russians came over to play during the recent CHL Subway Series, and won four of six games against the Canadian Hockey League. It's the first time that the Russians took the series, and they literally shocked a number of CHL All-Star teams with their skill and tenacity. The Canadian World Junior squad - those same players who played in the CHL Subway Series - should have known that this Russian squad was more than what it appeared on paper.

Instead, Canada took its foot off the gas pedal when it had built a comfortable lead through 40 minutes. In other tournaments, this might have been acceptable as the Russians may have decided to fight another day, but these Russians decided to push back. Just as they did during the CHL Subway Series. And no one, according to all the reports filed by news media, saw this coming.

Russia was down late against Finland. Russia won.
Russia was down late against Sweden. Russia won.
Russia was down late against Canada. Russia won.

Anyone see a trend there?

These Russian kids aren't that bad. In fact, despite their poor showing through the round-robin, they actually got better as the tournament progressed. The one thing that this Russian team did better than anyone else in the latter stages of this tournament is that they outworked their opponents.

That last statement feels really weird to write because the Russians haven't outworked anyone since players like Federov, Bure, and Mogilny were junior players. In recent history, players like Yashin, Afinogenov, and Kovalchuk thought that they could win games based on talent alone. They got steamrolled by Canada at the Olympics when the "best of the best" Russian players were on the ice because they didn't put the work in to get the results.

This Canadian loss will sting for a while. And not because we lost. That happens to all teams, and I accept that. No, this one will sting because we got outworked by a team that traditionally relies far too heavily on talent and not heavily enough on hard work. We got beat by a better team... for the second year in a row.

The Canadian identity of hard work over talent was lost in the last 20 minutes of the World Junior Championship gold medal game. And it will take at least a year to earn that credence back for Hockey Canada's Under-20 team. That, readers, is what hurts.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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