The gold medal match-up, which goes today on TSN at noon, isn’t the one that Canadian hockey fans were hoping for. That was assured when Finland beat Canada yesterday in one semi-final 5-1. With the victory, the Finns advanced to play host Sweden for the World Junior title. Canada, meanwhile, will take on the Russians in the bronze medal game which will be broadcast at 8 a.m. The Russians were relegated to that game after they lost the other semi-final 2-1 to Sweden.
Heading into the tournament, hopes for the Canadian team weren’t high. To begin with, the tournament was in Europe where the team typically struggles with the large ice surface. Also, the team was the second-youngest Canada had ever sent to the tournament after the 1987 squad. Eleven players are eligible return for the 2015 tournament which will be co-hosted by Toronto and Montreal.
It’s been five years now since the juniors last captured the gold medal. Undoubtedly, they’ll be some soul searching at Hockey Canada concerning the drought — which comes on the heels of a stretch where the Canadian juniors captured five gold medals in a row.
I don’t know enough about hockey to get into the ins and outs of what Canada’s doing right when it comes to developing hockey players and what it’s doing wrong although I think it’s fair to say that the NHL-driven focus on physical, defensive hockey is sapping some of the energy and talent out of the junior game. Also, at both the junior and adult level, Canada has struggled lately in the area of goaltending. A month ago the Globe & Mail had a special feature on that very topic. If you missed it, and you’re interested in hockey, it’s worth a read.