Canada has lost its perspective when it comes to World Juniors

Team Canada after its 6-5 quarterfinal loss to Finland MARKKU ULANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

When Hockey Canada president Tom Renney emerged to speak with reporters the day after Canada’s dismissal from the World Junior Championship, it seemed about the only thing missing in the backdrop was a constant loop of The Funeral March by Chopin.

(Full disclosure: I’m not actually at the WJC this year. Our junior hockey ace, Ryan Kennedy, is proudly carrying the THN banner at the tournament in Helsinki.)

Renney looked grim and answered his first question by saying, “We’re dealing with it OK,” as though he were talking about a death in the family. He went on to talk about how Hockey Canada, “has to own this,” and “take a real good, hard look at this.”

It’s of almost no consolation to the young men who tried their best for their country and were sent home early, but this is not the end of the world for them or for Hockey Canada. As far as their own careers, this is not a bell weather of how they’re going to fare as NHL players, if indeed they make it to that level at all. Roberto Luongo, Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay were all part of the 1998 Canadian team that finished eighth and lost to Kazakhstan, while Scott Niedermayer, Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya all played for the 1992 team that finished sixth.

By contrast, the two most dominant teams Canada has ever produced were in 2005 and ’06 and Cam Barker was on both of those teams. Ever wonder what happened to Dan Bertram, Sasha Pokulok and Ryan O’Marra? So do a lot of other people, but they were on the team that won in 2006 in Vancouver and might have been the most dominant defensive team Canada has ever produced. For all the greatness on the 2005 team that included Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Shea Weber, you might recall the goaltending tandem was Jeff Glass and Rejean Beauchemin and included the likes of Shawn Belle, Danny Syvret, Jeremy Colliton and Stephen Dixon. Martin Brodeur was cut from the 1992 team and in 2004, Cam Ward was lit up like a Christmas tree in the selection camp and was released, two years before winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy.

Which is to say that the WJC is a snapshot and in the 2016 snapshot, the photographer got Hockey Canada’s bad side. It was not a particularly bountiful year for 1996-born players, the goaltending was shaky to be sure and the team was a little too small and not quite skilled enough. But this does not have to provide a referendum on the state of hockey in Canada. Pretty tough to look at the likes of Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point and 2017 potential first overall pick Nolan Patrick and argue Canada is not producing enough skill players. In fact, go to a minor hockey arena near you and you’ll see kids doing some wonderful things on the ice. The fact is players have never been more skilled or better coached than they are in Canada now. (If you want to address something, you might want to start with goaltending. Just saying.)

The fact is that sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t. Renney talked about Canada always wanting to be in the hunt for medals and it always is. It was in this tournament, but came out on the wrong side of a one-game elimination because of a variety of factors. It happens. Canada will be back in the hunt next year on home ice. In fact, it will be right there the next three years when it will scarcely have to leave its own backyard.

For all the arrogance Ron Wilson has displayed at this tournament, there is no doubt he was onto something when he talked about the “unconscionable pressure” placed on the Canadian players. Wilson blamed TSN, but he missed the mark by a little. TSN is only trying to make a buck in a tough, competitive industry. The real culprit here, in your correspondent’s humble opinion, is Hockey Canada. It is the governing body of hockey in Canada that is at the controls here and it is the one that has allowed the hype for this tournament to run amok. You want unconscionable? A major hockey Canada sponsor telling 11- and 12-year-old kids that preparations for the 2023 WJC begin now. “If you do all that,” it counsels kids, “you’ll get noticed.” That’s unconscionable.

And has anyone ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s this approach to the tournament that is behind Canada’s lack of success. Now I get wanting to win every year and doing everything in your power to make that happen. Of course you’re going to do those things. and you never, ever want to get complacent about your place in the hockey universe. But just because it doesn’t go well doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “own it” and go through every flaw with a fine-tooth comb. How are those kids going to feel next year if they can’t win it at home after Hockey Canada has vowed to make things right?

It’s all about perspective. And when it comes to perspective, Canada has lost it when it comes to the World Junior Championship. And that loss of perspective starts right at the top of the food chain.

Sweden’s youngsters are wrecking the curve at the world juniors

Dmytro Timashov (photo by  Roni Rekomaa/AFP/Getty Images)

HELSINKI, FINLAND – Conventional wisdom dictated that Sweden’s offensive charge at the 2016 world juniors would be led by the veterans. William Nylander, Axel Holmstrom, Oskar Lindblom and Adrian Kempe all came in with great resumes and experience. But wouldn’t you know it? The Tre Kronor has actually been paced by three youngsters who are absolutely flying out there.

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Prospect Need to Know: Tyson Jost is a Canadian hero

Tyson Jost (photo courtesy Tim Bates/OJHL Images)

This will be the final Prospect NTK for at least a week or two, as the holidays and my travelling to Finland for the world juniors conspire. Expect a lot of world junior stuff on the web site in the meantime, so with that in mind I’ll concentrate more on the World Jr. A Challenge right now, since that tourney is done. There was some nice talent there once again, culminating in a Canada West gold medal.

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Daniel Sprong. (Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even though rookie Daniel Sprong made the Pittsburgh roster out of training camp, the 18-year-old couldn’t find a permanent spot in the lineup under former Penguins bench boss Mike Johnston. When Mike Sullivan came in as coach, Sprong was back in the lineup, but his minutes were limited.

Now, after 18 games, two goals and an average of less than nine minutes of ice time per outing, Sprong is heading back to major junior. The Penguins announced Saturday that Sprong has been returned to the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders with whom he has played his past two junior seasons. With Sprong getting such limited ice time, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said it’s important for the rookie to go somewhere where he’s going to get the chance to get to play on a consistent basis.

“Spending this time in the NHL has been a good development experience for Daniel,” Rutherford said in statement. “But it’s important for him to have more playing time.” Read more

Prospect Need to Know: Team Canada’s Mason McDonald feeling the heat

Mason McDonald  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

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Travis Green (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

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This was not the case during Johnston’s run and while a lot of the blame is to be shouldered by Rutherford (the Simon Despres trade, so far the Phil Kessel trade, etc.), there’s no reason a team with as much talent as Pittsburgh should have one of the worst power plays in the NHL (they currently rank 27th overall) and struggle to score.

So yeah, the hiring was a bust. Perhaps the Penguins didn’t do their research deeply enough: Johnston made his name with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, but there is more to that story than what you’d glean from skimming the surface.

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Mackenzie Blackwood  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

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