|Why Canada Lost||Tweet|
|Written by Matt Bugg|
|Wednesday, 06 January 2010 03:14|
In the wake of Team Canada's defeat at the hands of the Americans at the 2010 World Junior Championships, it's time to re-examine the country's tactics to ensure the next five years are as successful as the previous five.
It's easy to play Monday (or, more accurately, Wednesday) morning quarterback, and the point of this piece is not to mete out blame- either on an organizational or individual scale- for what is essentially another consecutive top-two finish. However, general manager Brad Pascall and a coaching staff headlined by Willie Desjardins will have plenty to think about in the coming days. What issues might Hockey Canada wish to approach differently next year?
4. A Lack of Respect for Opponents
There's no question that since the beginning of the World Junior Championships, the 'developing countries' of hockey have looked to emulate Canada's approach to the game in the hopes of one day also emulating their success.
To that end, Canada was not a good 'Big Brother' during the 2010 edition of the tournament.
Starting with a Patrice Cormier elbow in the December 20th Canada-Sweden exhibition game and continuing on into the round robin, the Canadians were far from a shining example of sportsmanship.
Depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on, what happened then on January 3rd against the Swiss was a perfect example of poetic justice. In a tournament where Team Canada had garnered a reputation for making reckless contact in games with little meaning, Jeffrey Fuglister's last-minute hit in a 6-1 blowout ended the tournament for star defender Travis Hamonic.
That's not to stay Hamonic deserved what happened to him in any shape, way or form- he's as articulate and compassionate a young man as you'll find, traits he shares with his older brother- but it was an inevitable response from a European player and country tired of being bullied.
One might argue that it was only a matter of time before the Swiss and others garnered the physical firepower to fight back, and that's a fair point. But it was the exhibition antics of Team Canada that led to an escalation in the frequency and danger of hits from opponents.
3. Inexperienced Goaltending
The seeds of the team's next-biggest flaw were actually sown last year- and the year before that. In fact, it's an on-going cycle:
2005 WJC: Jeff Glass (19), Rejean Beachemin (19)
2006 WJC: Justin Pogge (19), Devan Dubnyk (19)
2007 WJC: Carey Price (19), Leland Irving (18)
2008 WJC: Steve Mason (19), Jonathan Bernier (19)
2009 WJC: Dustin Tokarski (19), Chet Pickard (19)
2010 WJC: Jake Allen (19), Martin Jones (19)
While it's difficult to look at the above pattern and say "It's not working"- five golds argue the opposite- only two Canadians have won the Directorate's Top Goaltender award since the streak began: Price and Mason, both legitimate NHL stars. Here are the others during that timespan:
2005 WJC: Marek Schwarz (also played in 2004 and 2006 WJC)
2006 WJC: Tuukka Rask (also played in 2004 and 2006 WJC)
2009 WJC: Jacob Markstrom (18)
2010 WJC: Benjamin Conz (18)
The advantage of taking at least one 18-year-old goaltender is clear. Playing at the U20s is unlike any other pressure situation a netminder will face during the course of his junior career- it's the Olympics, essentially, for that age group and having a returnee in net is as tangible an edge as an NHL team having a goalie who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals. To bring two entirely green netminders to the event year-in and year-out is an odd choice, and the juggling that has been necessary in the round robin and even medal rounds attests to this.
One need only look at the Americans. Had the team been run the same way as Team Canada, Jack Campbell likely doesn't make the squad. This means that he doesn't ingratiate himself to Dean Blais until perhaps New Year's 2011. Instead, Campbell will go to Buffalo next year with the experience of having beaten the Canadians on home ice to win Gold. He will be the clear-cut starter and the team in front of him can play knowing what he is capable of. Additionally, Team USA can feature up to nine returnees in 2011; those players will already be familiar with Campbell and his tendencies.
Canada, however, will again enter the tournament at square one with two goaltenders entirely new to the experience.
2. Little Incubation Time
Bar none the greatest weakness of Team Canada 2010 was its lack of chemistry. The opposite was true of Team USA, and that's in no small part because of the National Team Development Program.
While it would be pre-mature to revamp the entire Hockey Canada program on the basis of one second-place finish, a greater emphasis must be placed on building chemistry.
Note the word 'building'. Head coach Willie Desjardins understood the chemistry problem, and sought to make it a non-issue by bringing an entire forward and defense unit from the defending Memorial Cup-champion Windsor Spitfires.
However, the result was rather predictable. Adam Henrique and Greg Nemisz are outstanding players in the Ontario Hockey League, but they were quickly given lesser assignments when it became clear they could not play power versus power against the world's best. With no Plan B in place, Desjardins was forced to mix-and-match Taylor Hall, Nazem Kadri and Jordan Eberle with secondary players like Brayden Schenn and Brandon McMillan well into the Gold Medal game.
The only way to build or find chemistry is through practice and gameplay.
While Team USA's two best forwards- Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider- are not part of the NTDP, the majority of the roster had played together for a season and even two or three prior to arriving in Saskatchewan.
Team Canada needs to settle their roster earlier than the middle of December- ideally November, in time for the Subway/Insert Sponsor Here Russia-Canada Challenge/Super Series. That event could be replaced by a similar exhibition tour we saw Team Sweden embark on, perhaps pitting TC against Austrian or German professional clubs. After all, Russia will never bring their best, and why would they? It gives Team Canada an extra two months to get a read on their top players in game situations. The time and money would be better utilized prepping for the World Juniors.
1. A Lack of NHL Co-Operation
TSN rightfully pointed out the great sacrifices that Canadian Hockey League clubs make in seeding the World Juniors with talent- not only for Team Canda, but for almost every other nation as well. They are to be commended for their support, especially when losing a top player can mean the difference between a playoff berth or a high pick.
The National Hockey League? Not so much. It's entirely understandable that clubs would be reticent to release a John Tavares or Steve Stamkos as these players are core elements. But Atlanta's Evander Kane is 14th on the Thrashers in TOI per game with fourteen minutes.
Stamkos' teammate James Wright plays even less- just twelve minutes a night. Their respective teams could easily have spared them for two weeks and five games in late December.
While Canada is not alone in this- imagine how Victor Hedman might have looked in this tournament- they simply produce the majority of every NHL rookie class and will continue to be punished for it as long as junior-aged players with pro experience are allowed to participate (more on that below).
The counter-argument is that because the stakes are higher in the NHL, it doesn't make sense to release any regular roster player no matter the ice-time. But just why are the stakes higher for NHL teams? CHL clubs have an even thinner bottom line and one player can make or break a roster. Yet, these teams have no problem giving up a star player to help a national team, whether it be Team Canada or Team Latvia.
What the IIHF Must Do Differently
The issue of NHL cooperation isn't something that can be blamed solely on Hockey Canada. While they can impact their own selection process, they can't perform miracles (okay, well, maybe Jordan Eberle can). However, before the IIHF and NHL can seriously examine the issue, they must determine what the World Junior Championships really are: a best-on-best of the top U20 talent, or a best-on-best of the top junior talent.
If the NHL wishes the tournament to be a showcase of players in junior, it makes little sense to allow professional players to participate. A prime example is John Carlson, who has spent the entire year in the American League. If NHL teams cannot see a benefit to allowing Tavares and Duchene to participate, the same standard should apply to Carlson. He had as little to prove at the WJC as either did and is a big piece of the Bears blueline.
Such a rule change would have a substantial impact on European rosters, but again, it's all relative. Magnus Pääjärvi is a first-line player in Timra; he'll never, ever spend another day in SuperElit.
However, if the IIHF's chosen direction is to ensure the WJC is a true U20 best-on-best- as most would agree is the focus- then it must ensure every country can have as many of their top players available as possible.
It's impossible to schedule the tournament completely out of the way of the NHL, at least for two entire weeks. But by changing the number of teams involved from ten to eight, the event's length could easily be reduced to a single week with a three-day round robin, an off-day and then three days of playoffs. NHL teams would see their premier U20 talent miss just one or two games, a far more palatable situation.One could go even further: by making the All-Star Weekend a week-long event during the holiday break ending with a New Year's Day Winter Classic, the WJC could go on completely unfettered.
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|Last Updated on Thursday, 07 January 2010 02:09|