WJC column – Canada in search of Gold

By Jeff Bromley
Last time I checked, it had been three years since the teenage hockey phenoms that represent our country
every Christmas at the World Junior Hockey Championships had brought home the gold medal. A bronze
last year after falling to the dreaded Russians in the semifinal game, a silver in 1999 at Winnipeg in a
heartbreaking overtime loss, once again to the Russians. The 1998 edition was a forgetful eighth place
showing. So from failing hands the torch is passed to this years crop of teenage talent. Pressure? What
pressure?

There is a handful of pundits and prognosticators that predict that if this year’s edition of the Canadian
world junior entry doesn’t win the yellow hardware, it will only further signify that Canada has fallen further
of its perch of hockey supremacy. I beg to differ. If the boys don’t come home with gold around their necks,
I maintain that it is exactly the opposite. We haven’t fallen further off the perch, it’s just that the perch has
become much bigger and now hosts more than the just the one or two dominant countries that occupied it
in the past. Canada, Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland are all dominant countries on the
international hockey scene. With the addition of up and comers such as Slovakia, Latvia and Belarus it only
promises to become even more crowded at the top. Suffice to say that the days of one country dominating
at the international level, such as the way Canada did from 1993 to ’97, five gold medals in a row at the
WJC’s, are over. Every year from now on will more than likely be a crap shoot with seemingly every
competing country icing a highly talented and competitive team and having a shot at the medal podium.

From a Canadian perspective, the navel-gazing and second guessing had already begun and the club has
barely set foot on European soil. Of course this all stems from the always controversial rounds of cuts made
by Team Canada coach Stan Butler. This year’s rounds of cuts, particularly the last two forwards and goalie
cut including Kris Beech of the Calgary Hitmen, Pascal Leclaire of the Halifax MooseHeads and Krys
Kolanos of Boston College set off a wave of criticism that still hasn’t ebbed. The controversy, mostly fueled
by Beech himself in a newspaper report in which the Sicamous, B.C. product candidly expressed his
displeasure at not making the national squad, has become somewhat of another national gripe before many
tournaments of this magnitude begin. Leclaire also declared his bewilderment at the decision to leave him off
the team as the highly touted prospect was the last goalie cut from last year’s squad as a sixteen-yr-old.
Many observers of the evaluation camp also thought that Kolanos, a Phoenix Coyotes draft pick, was
among the top forwards and should have been picked to wear the Maple Leaf. The simple fact of the matter
is that these three very talented hockey players weren’t picked for reasons only Team Canada headman
Stan Butler knows for sure. You can believe the hype of perceived politics all you want. Does Beech have
an attitude problem or is it just plain outspokenness? Would’ve Kolanos had a better shot if he played for a
CHL team instead of in the NCAA? Did back up net minder Alex Auld have the inside track over Pascal
Leclaire because of Team Canada’s assist coach Mike Kelly is also Auld’s head coach in North Bay?
Politics in hockey, whether perceived or contrived, shouldn’t play a part at this or any level in dictating
whose makes the team and who does not. The best players according to Stan Butler make the squad and
those decisions and the team’s outcome will be the litmus test. Interestingly enough last year also had a
controversial last cut from Team Canada in the form of Kootenay ICE forward Mike Comrie. Like Beech,
Comrie also wondered aloud what else he had to do to make the team. Many thought then that Comrie could
be the one to push the club to the gold medal. Canada finished with a bronze. Hindsight being what it is,
could have a Team Canada that included Mike Comrie finished higher than a bronze? Who knows?

One thing though is for certain. If Canada comes back with a less than expected showing, the ‘what ifs’ and
‘should’ve been’ will be flying and Stan Butler will be on the hot seat. If Canada comes back with the gold,
Butler will be praised as a genius. Then of course the whole cycle of ‘expected gold’ will start all over again.

Like I said guys, Pressure? What Pressure.