The late and wonderful sports writer Jim Kelley could never figure us out, us being Canadians. He loved our country, vacationed here, said we had it right on a whole lot of issues, from social tolerance to making good beer.
But he always wondered: “Why do Canadians lose all that acceptance and tolerance when they watch a hockey game?”
He had a point, and it’s been underscored again by Canada’s loss to Russia at the world junior tournament. We’re a spectacularly accepting hockey populace as long as we win. When we lose, when the other side scores five unanswered goals in gripping fashion, then we start picking at our national scab and wonder, “Where did it all go wrong?”
Please. Everything people said about this Canadian team before the tournament began came to pass. The team had no Sidney Crosby-like superstar. It was going to have to skate and wear opponents down. The goaltending was questionable. But we forgot all that once the players battled their way to the final against a Russian side that had gotten better as the days went along.
In the end, it was true: there was no Canadian superstar to take control. The team stopped skating and the goaltending wasn’t strong enough. The kids did their best. The Russians did better.
Back in 1998, after Canada failed to even make the medal round at the Nagano Winter Olympics, there was a great out-pouring of angst, and decidedly so. We had sent our best pros and they’d been schooled on the big ice. What happened at the world juniors is simple: Canada went with the top available players and lost in a one-game showdown to a more resilient team, one with more talent.
Can’t that be enough?
Somewhere in the great beyond, Jim Kelley is probably saying, “You Canadians. Relax, and pass me a Molson.”