First we strike the Royal Commission.
Then we launch the 32-part newspaper series on “Whither Canadian Hockey?” Then Peter Mansbridge and The National go on location and report directly from every backyard rink and driveway and child’s imagination in the country. Then we arrange summits and symposia and present learned academic papers on where this country has to pick up its game in every area from stick taping to skate sharpening.
But first we deal with the culprits. Dare we do, as Sweden’s top daily did following Team Sweden’s humiliating meltdown at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, when the Swedes were beaten by Belarus, run mug shots of every one of these acne-battling kids on the front page with a single headline: “Guilty!”
Of course not.
Take a pill, Canada. A very good team got beaten by a better team on this ice-cold day in Ufa, a team that on another day – say, just last Sunday – the team that lost on this day could just as easily have been the winner. As a disheartened Canadian head coach Steve Spott put it following Canada’s 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Americans, “When you get down to one game, anything can happen in junior hockey.”
And in this case it most certainly did. The Canadians, so fleet through the four games of the opening round, were suddenly slow and uncertain on the ice. So skilled and smart for four games, in one game they became awkward and thoughtless. So patient and determined had they been in successfully coming back against Slovakia, in this game they became impatient and lost resolve and never did mount a counter-challenge.
One game, one disaster.
It is, of course, no such thing. At its worst, it is simply a loss in a game children play – and in this case a game actually played by children, all of them teenagers, some of them yet to shave. At its best, it remains an opportunity for a medal in a world-class event, the one sport in the hundreds of athletic competitions where Canadians rather naively and increasingly foolishly say nothing will do but gold. Canada will now play for bronze, and a bronze medal is not, as so many would have it, an insult to the national psyche.
Surely it cannot be that frail.
“A bronze medal’s a medal,” said freewheeling Canadian defenceman Ryan Murphy when it was over. “It’s third in the world. It’s not a crappy award.”
And yet, and yet. ... already the navel-gazing and head-scratching and tipsy talk-radio calls have begun. What went wrong?
Well, a great deal went wrong. Spott, in retrospect, thought maybe he and his assistants might have slammed the dressing room door shut before the game and set a verbal fire under them. But surely a pep talk was unnecessary. It was, after all, a game they had to win to reach their goal, a game against the archrival Americans. If they couldn’t get up for that then they weren’t up to it.
Something happened to the new big line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele and 17-year-old Jonathan Drouin. Nugent-Hopkins could find no space, Scheifele was physically driven to the ice many times, Drouin was so frustrated his body language was screaming.
What happened was they got shut down. A good defensive team will do that.
Maybe it was the goaltending ... again. Just as the world juniors have become a Canadian ritual, a recent parallel ritual is to question Canadian goaltending. After Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk came Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito. After them Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur and ... There have been excellent goaltenders from Canada, but the rest of the world, it seems in recent years, have produced even more.
Should Malcolm Subban have had those goals? One, maybe two, but Roy and Brodeur let in softies in many of their best games, let alone their best years. Should Subban have been replaced earlier? Who knows? Jordan Binnington played fine, but it wasn’t the same situation at all, being down 4-0, and he did let in one goal.
The only thing we can say for certain is the pressures placed on whoever plays net for Team Canada at the 2014 tourament will be beyond cruel.
Did all that talk in recent days of a return to NHL action have an effect? The questions were fired at the likes of Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele, both of whom have NHL experience, and perhaps it was distracting. However, similar questions were thrown the direction of the American players who have been drafted by NHL teams and, obviously, they had no trouble with their focus.
What was it, then? The big ice surface? Jet lag? The flu bug? Bad officiating? An unlucky ruble buried at centre ice?
How about none of the above?
And how about just accept the obvious truth about hockey at any level – stuff happens – and say that the time has come to dispense with that self-inflicted wound in the Canadian hockey vocabulary that says “gold or nothing.”
It is, after all, just a game.
No Royal Commission required.