Monday, January 3, 2011

Canada and USA Meet Tonight

That was the headline Canadian hockey fans have been waiting for throughout the current edition of the World Junior Hockey Championships.

It's not that we were bored or disinterested with the first eight days of competition, not in the least. The Canadian powerplay continues to be gorgeous, watching Brayden Schenn pile up points was impressive and the Russians and Swedes both made us fully aware why Canada, for maybe only the third time in the last 15 years, wasn't the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite.

Besides, this is the World Juniors! Hockey Canada and TSN have done a tremendous job building the WJHC into a "monster" and other than Pierre McGuire, we absolutely lovvvvvve this tournament. The Stanley Cup hasn't been won by a Canadian team since 1993 and over the last 17 years this tournament has become our annual reprieve, our appetite growing year after year. For most of us, the WJHC is a chance to tune out our crappy NHL team for a couple of weeks and actually have the opportunity to receive some satisfaction in return for our emotional investment. (Yes, I am looking directly at you Brian Burke.)

However, this year things are a little different. The rabid-dog, crazed enthusiast, World Junior Hockey fever that normally sweeps across our nation...hasn't. It could be that we're still basking in delight from our 2010 Olympic Gold and that victory, combined with years of dominating the World Juniors, has resulted in a fat cat attitude for Canadian hockey fans at the moment. Maybe because there wasn't a Crosby, Tavares, or Hall on the roster, a household superstar that we could rally behind, we were willing to file this year's team under "Can't Win 'Em All" and simply move on.

Or maybe the biggest factor in our collective softened excitement this year is that other than Canada, the U.S.A., Switzerland and maybe Sweden, none of the countries seem to be improving. Actually, they appear to be getting worse. Finland has been at best treading water for years. Russian hockey is a mess. At the turn of the century both the Czech Republic and Slovakia were threats in any tournament, but in recent years they have looked un-organized and over-matched.

On the other hand, after developing a genuine dislike for each others program over the last decade and on the heels of two unbelievable games (Gold medal and New Year's Eve) at last year's World Juniors and the instant classic that was the Olympic Gold Medal overtime battle, the Canada/U.S. hockey rivalry is at it's all-time peak.

All of which means that as of today, after two weeks of tempered enthusiasm for Team Canada, this tournament has our attention. This game matters to us.

We stand on guard for thee.

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