Team Canada’s skate blades were barely dry after the team’s 4-3 quarterfinal loss to Slovakia at the 2012 IIHF World Championship when the handwringing at home began in earnest. Shocked Twitter users threw out words like “embarrassing” and “pathetic.” Soon enough, we’ll be hearing plaintive wails for Hockey Canada to be examined extensively with Luminol and by Jack Klugman and David Caruso.
For me, it’s entirely predictable and more than a little tired. Whenever Canada fails to win a tournament – be it the World Junior Championship, Olympics or any international showdown – a number of Canadians get weak in the knees and drown in dread that their homeland will soon be on the same level as Lesotho and the Solomon Islands when it comes to producing hockey talent.
Nothing could be further from the truth. And a quick scan of the circumstances of Canada’s World Championship defeat by Slovakia should comfort all reasonable Canucks in that regard.
For starters, you’re talking about a tournament that does not include the best talent each country has to offer. Everyone knows the Stanley Cup playoffs siphon off skilled players from virtually all countries – and many of the NHLers who do become available after their teams are eliminated often choose (as is their right) to return home and convalesce following a long, gruelling season. Moreover, the players who do decide to represent their country usually are worn down and go up against European national teams that have far more practice and preparation time. It is only natural to assume that will have an effect on Canada’s chances.
But even if Canada had all hands on deck and lost, does that mean there’s something troublingly wrong with the manner in which it develops players? Not to me. It’s the height of arrogance to assume each major international showdown will end with another Canadian coronation and the rest of the planet admitting that America’s neighbor to the north will forever be better at hockey than any other nation.
For a country that prides itself on being polite and kind to a fault, such arrogance comes off even worse than it would if it came from a consistent chest-beater. In many ways, it reminds me of the cowardly “Beggar King” Viserys from the popular Game Of Thrones books/TV series, whose expectancy for glory was best encapsulated in the quote, “You cannot touch me. I am the dragon! I want my crown!”
That’s what I hear when I hear Canadians bemoaning their place in the hockey world at any particular point in time. Is it not enough that 53.7 percent of all NHLers in 2011-12 hail from Canada? Do we not understand that, long ago, all other hockey countries learned how to play “the Canadian way” and have their own collection of talent that can overcome adversity and show courage in its own right? Are we really that myopic that we can’t comprehend how boring it would get – and how awful it would be for the long-term growth of the sport – if Canada’s challengers never failed to wither by the wayside?
Anyone who tries convincing you there’s just something in the water that separates Canadian players from all the rest is exhibiting a sad need to be comforted by nationalism. The reality is there is no inherent advantage to the random circumstance of being born within particular boundaries. Just as we see in the NHL, the hockey world at large is creeping closer to parity with every generation. And no re-examination or re-jigging of Hockey Canada will change that.
Ultimately, Canada is not the dragon and doesn’t get the crown simply because it’s accustomed to wearing one. By earning it – and by respecting other hockey nations that earn their victories, the way Slovakia did in the quarterfinal – we’ll come away looking far more gracious than some nervous northerners will in the coming days.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.