Monday, December 15, 2008

A holiday tradition. Canadian like maple syrup. Heart, grit, blah, blah, blah

Here at Out of Left Field we love junior hockey. We really do. It connects us to our roots and, to this author anyway, there are few things as quintessentially Canadian as heading down to the ole' rink to watch the CHL. Tell me that you wouldn't smile if you saw someone wearing a Peterborough Petes cap in, say, Romania. I would, and I hate the damn Petes. It's something that's just ours.

And for many years the World Juniors were the glue that held all junior hockey lovers together. For 50 weeks a year we may get drunk and try and claw the eyes out of some guy that has the audacity to cheer for the wrong team, but for those two weeks that the Juniors are on it's all together, all for one against the big, bad Russians/pansy Swedes/pale Finns/humourless Czechs and arrogant Yanks. The Slovakians, Swiss and Germans we just pity.

Or at least that's the way it was. Until TSN figured out that it could make boatloads of coin off it, thus ensuring that it's held here every other year (and within driving distance of here one out of the two times each
quadrennial that it isn't). Which in turn changes the competitive balance of the event, tipping it drastically in favour of Canada. Which ultimately sucks most of the drama and joy out of it.

Complicating things is TSN's insistence in telling us how much of a tradition it is and how much we bond over watching it. Oh, and how the results prove that we as Canadians have superior grit and determination which allows us to overcome long odds to achieve victory (it's amazing. We're the bloody Brazil of ice hockey, if you follow, yet the Canadian media somehow manages to paint us as underdogs. It's absurd. Not only have we become the bully of this tournament, we've become the whiny bully).

We've won four straight, should have won the fifth and were a bounce away from winning the two before that. The drama is lacking. The novelty of this tournament is waning. It seems to sustain itself on jingoistic bluster and damn good marketing.

Yet, we'll watch. Of course we'll watch. The games are entertaining. But, for the most part we do so dispassionately. We'll let out a little whoop after the final seconds of the gold medal game ends then go back to doing the laundry.

To me the World Juniors are all about December 29, 1984. On that day, Craig Billington, the Belleville Bulls all-star goaltender, shut-out the dreaded Soviets 5-0 in a game that had been broadcast live from coast to coast (something that was still a bit of a novelty with junior hockey then). Hours later, I stood with my grandfather in the Quinte Sports Centre listening to grown men fawn over the antics of their, and now all of Canada's, teenage hero. It was intoxicating. Somehow Belleville felt like it had shut-out the Soviets. We were Canada's hero. Then, to make the night complete, Billington's back-up, John Reid, stood on his head, coming within one minute of shutting-out Belleville's opposition. When he finally let a goal in the crowd arose as one to applaud his efforts. But, we weren't just applauding Reid. No, we were willing that applause across the Atlantic.

It mattered then. If you weren't around you can't imagine how much. But, that magic is gone. Sure, we win -- a whole lot -- but it no longer connects us in any real way. The package is prettier, but the results less satisfying.

Related: 2009 Team Canada


Dennis Prouse said...

No question this tournament is heavily tilted towards Canada. We have the nicest draw, the biggest dressing room in the nicest arena, the hotel closest to the rink, the whole bit. This year, though, I am far from certain Canada is going to win it. There are eight teenagers currently in the NHL who could be playing for Canada, but aren't. As a result, Canada is going to ice one of the weakest teams we have had in years. They are young, and boy are they small relative to some of our other teams. Maybe it is a down year for our opponents as well, but if there was ever a year that another country wanted to rub Canada's nose in it, this might be their chance.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how the likes of sweden handles the fans.Its one thing to play in front of 10,000 which many swdes do.They will be playing in front of 21,000 durring the tournemant.

Mike Radoslav said...

When I was growing up I played basketball over hockey, but on those Saturday mornings if there was a World Jr. game across the pond you'd see parents and their kids trickling in late because they had been watching the end of the game. It did seem more magical to me back then in the late 80's/early 90's as the Canadians started their first huge winning streak. I think the Salt Lake Olympics were the last real unifying international hockey moment for Canada, it has seemed to be missing something since then.

Doesn't mean I will stop watching though, it just feels like part of this time of the year for me. While the States have Football with Thanksgiving we have the World Juniors with the Christmas holidays.