For the second consecutive year, Team Canada failed to medal in the World Juniors, and that has some people back home concerned.
The national junior team was defeated by its Russian rivals in the bronze medal game at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) in Malmo, Sweden.
The defeat has fans, media and Hockey Canada questioning asking how the team failed to make the top three in the tournament for the second consecutive year, something that hasn’t happened since a three-year drought from 1979 to 1981.
Blake Wildeman is the head coach of the Okotoks Bisons in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) and was disappointed in Canada’s finish.
“We [Canada] always expect to be on the podium, if not on top of it,” he said in an interview with The Press.
While Canada will always be a hockey power, it’s no surprise that other countries have caught up to Canada, and the competition level has increased.
“I couldn’t agree more with what Brent Sutter said,” said Wildeman.
Just prior to the conclusion of the tournament, Sutter, the head coach of Team Canada, noted that the competition has become much tougher in the past several years and the home side is no longer the lock to win a medal that it was in 2005-2006. To get back on top, Canada has to raise its game, he said.
Wildeman expressed strong support for that view.
“Hockey is about development,” he said.
“We as a country are so worried about wins and losses, rather than promoting and cultivating each player’s individual skill set.
“Look at what Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings said a couple years ago. ‘We only had one puck at our practice. If I wanted to keep it [the puck], I had to find a way.’ We need more kids using that mentality,” said Wildeman.
Mike Smith, radio announcer for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) believes Canada fell short in Malmo because too many top junior players weren’t made available to the national junior team by the NHL clubs that had drafted them.
“We were well short of our best players, while other nations don’t really feel the impact of having your best 18- and 19-year-olds in the NHL,” Smith said in an email interview, noting that Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche would’ve been difference makers.
Monahan and MacKinnon are among the top scoring rookies in the NHL so far this season.
Hockey Canada may see substantial changes by the time the 2015 WJHC comes to Toronto and Montreal. Sutter and his staff tried hard to replicate Canada’s dominating teams from 2005 and 2006.
Instead of having a 23-man mini-training camp as it did this year, Canada could revert to its old system and have more players vying to make the team.
Expectations could also be a problem. Canada’s teenagers may be wilting under the pressure to win that is attached to the WJHC.
“Look at where we live,” said Wildeman.
“There’s way too much pressure on those kids.” “We [Canada] put so much of our national status in hockey.”
Hockey Canada, however, does a great job in bringing in hockey psychiatrists for the team to help with performance training and mental preparation.
“I think we have a number of players playing roles that they are either not used to or uncomfortable in playing,” Smith said.
“If they felt pressure this year, next year’s event (in Canada) will be magnified.”