It may be the only way to make sense of it all.
Try thinking of this not so much as a tournament – at least at this stage – as a spectacle.
Even the World Junior Championship tag line – “I was there” (“J’etais la”) – is more about the spectator than the player, just as most games are as much about what the fans score as will the teams.
“Spectacle” is a near-perfect description, a middle-English word intended to convey a sense of staring at something deemed special. It is not by chance that the dictionary suggests as synonyms “circus” and “pageant” – both more accurate at this point than “tournament” or “championship.”
Consider, as Exhibit A, Thursday evening’s pond hockey shinny game, Canada versus Denmark. The Danes, hopelessly overmatched, might have better advised to stay in their street clothes and try to trick the Canadians into doing the same by bringing along the sign that was placed this balmy week at the entrance to the downtown outdoor ice surface: “Rink Closed Due to Poor Ice Conditions.”
At least cancellation would be a tie, sort of…..
No one expected the Danes to challenge, just as challenges are automatically out of the question for so very many of the games played in the long lead-up to the medal round. Strangely, those who carp about women’s hockey being so lopsided remain largely silent about the imbalances in world junior hockey competition – perhaps because, in Canada, the spectacle has been made ritual – a tip of the hat here to TSN – and beloved rituals are not to be challenged.
It matters not that Canada whipped Finland 8-1 and then the Czech Republic 5-0 any more than it matters that the Danes entered this match having already lost 7-0 to the Czechs and 11-3 to Team U.S.A. – an 18-3 deficit that could only get worse up against the tournament favourites.
And did, as the Danes fell 10-2 in what can only in a gesture of mercy be called a hockey game. Both Danish goals came in the third period with the Canadian players largely tuned out.
Yet it matters not because of spectacle. The fans arrive dressed in red and white and maple leaves head to foot. They wear cowboy hats fashioned out of Molson Canadian beer boxes. They pound their Thundersticks to drive the homeside onward, though this was about as necessary Thursday evening as ordering the dog to clean up that plate of gravy.
They filled the seats and they filled the corridors. They posed with red tunic Mounties for photographs – the WJC now in the same sacred realm as Canada Day and the Grey Cup – and they spent so much on the 50/50 draw that by the end produced a payout of $87,480.
At the souvenir stand, the checkout line was as long and twisting as the security line at a major airport on a long weekend. They sold out almost instantly of the 30th-anniversary edition jerseys and volunteers were fending off cash offers for the blue long-sleeve t-shirts they’d been issued, the ones with all the team flags down one arm.
It mattered not where you went in Rexall Place arena, there was a circus atmosphere. Even in the men’s washrooms, the mirrors asked “’Who’ Tall Are You?” with the heights of various Canadian celebrities marked off to show hand washers (sadly, still a minority) are as tall as Jim Carrey at 6 foot 2, as short as Michael J. Fox at 5 foot 4 or the size of Justin Bieber (5 foot 6) or Terry Fox (5 foot 10).
(Unfortunately, The Globe and Mail was at press time unable to confirm what might be found on the mirrors in the women’s washrooms.)
You could line up for beer or line up to put a bid in on the silent auction – an autographed Dave Keon No. 14 Toronto Maple Leafs jersey starting at $350, a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins unsigned jersey beginning at $250 or even a Bobby Orr “No. 5” (for an early All-Star appearance) signed and numbered, starting at $200.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there was also the game.
With 16,275 fans cheering as loud the final goal as they had the first.
So it is when spectacle is the main draw.