So I ask my fellow Americans: Am I the only one that is getting extremely bored with the World Junior Championship. I do thank the good folks at USA Hockey for negotiating a deal with NHL Network to broadcast all of Team USA’s games as well as the medal round this year. Unfortunately, the quality of on-ice product that the U.S. produced lacked when compared to the ultimate tournament champion, Canada.
The U.S. team scored plenty of goals but few at the right time. And their so-called diamond in the rough, goaltender Thomas McCollem, collapsed at the wrong time, allowing 10 goals total in his final two games against Canada (a 7-4 loss in pool play) and Slovakia (a 5-3 quarterfinal loss). I don’t want to sit here and question coaching as I’m no brighter than the group that was behind the bench. But it certain stirs questions in my mind whether or not this team had the leadership to carry it to victory.
On the other hand, Canada once again reigned as the dominant force. I watched Monday night’s Gold Medal Game against Sweden. Canada was dominated on the shot chart, allowing 40 shots for Sweden to Canada’s 31. But anyone who watched that game knows that of Sweden’s 40 shots, few were of high quality. The Canadian defense stiffled the Swedes, killing all six power plays and allowing few quality chances for Sweden with the man advantage. In the end, the 5-1 final was hardly indicative of how close the game was down the stretch (Canada scored twice into an open net) but, in my mind, was representative of how much better Canada looked on monday night.
The title was Canada’s fifth straight, the second time the nation has put together such a streak. Next year, the Canadians will go for a record sixth straight and will once again have the luxury of playing on home ice as the tournament will be played in Regina and Saskatoon. Which leads me to pose the question: why?
Why does Canada play host to almost every one of these tournaments? In my memory, I can recall two that were played in the states – in North Dakota (a relatively short ride from Canada) and Boston (again, 4 hours to the Canadian border). I know that a few of the European nations have also hosted the event and the U.S. (well, Buffalo, which might as well be considered Canada) will host again in 2011. But it does seem somewhat unfair that the entire world has to play in front of raucous Canadian crowds in what is supposed to be a neutral international event. If it’s because of money, I understand. This year’s WJC generated a record 453,282 fans, crushing the old record of 374,353 set in Vancouver in 2003. I’d just rather see the rest of the world take a stab at hosting this event.
Still, the WJC remains likely the most exciting amateur, non-collegiate championship played today in sports. I’d just prefer to see something rather than the same old, same old.