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The Globe and Mail

Canadian media created monster, and it bit back

Damn those teenagers anyhow, eh? Just when you've spent years and millions of dollars developing a TV property that is a combination beer commercial and Christmas-time reality show, and gussied it up to be something other than a hockey competition between a bunch of 17-, 18- and 19-year-old boys, the sonsofguns go off and act their age.

And that's only the Russians, getting oiled in their hotel bar - neat trick: a team full of players who have won an under-20 tournament openly drinking alcohol in a bar where the legal drinking age is 21 - and then getting kicked off their flight. Oh, those wacky puckheads! (Who among us, right?)

The Canadians? They did it differently: acting like panic-stricken teens in the third period of Wednesday's gold-medal loss, a team built on a robotic but effective system that suddenly blew a sprocket, without a bona fide go-to guy who could say: 'Relax, boys. I've got this.'

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You know what this was? This was like filming an entire season of The Bachelor and then having the guy announce in the last episode: 'Guess what? I'm gay.' Because at its heart, the world junior hockey tournament is a television property that has been lovingly nurtured by TSN and has become both a ratings monster and great sporting entertainment at a time when - let's face it - every Canadian-based NHL team but the Vancouver Canucks is pretty much rubbish.

And the truth is, the response to Wednesday night's loss was in many ways a media creation, too.

On my Toronto radio show I was surprised by the measured response of the majority of the callers. Vox populi seems to have done a better job of dealing with this than some of us in the media. Callers used words like "collapse" and "debacle" less often than the media did and that gave me hope, you know?

Maybe the maturity I thought Canadians showed over the course of the Vancouver Games - where an event that started with a death on the luge track and a malfunctioning mechanical arm during the opening ceremonies had some people in our business acting as though they worked in a third-world country that was going to make a hash of everything - has in fact become a reality.

It just seemed to me that a lot of the chiding from the media was a little pre-emptive and maybe even a little self-guilty. It was apparent, frankly, that TSN was caught off-guard by the Canadian loss - I'm surprised they weren't all wearing black armbands on SportsCentre - and while the sense of national disappointment was palpable it did not, frankly, seem feverish.

True, one caller to the show tried to compare the loss to the U.S. Dream Team not playing in the fourth quarter of an international basketball game. Yeah, well, whatever. Some people think life is a beer commercial, where ya gotta have heart and everybody's a good Kingston boy and everybody hates Commie pinko lefties and sits in front of the family fire like the Harpers wearing Team Canada jerseys and high-fiving every time one of our 18-year-olds scores against one of their 18- or 19-year-olds.

They are beyond help. Indeed, many of the same people doubtless saw James Duthie's pre-game blurb from the Canadian dressing room and thought the over-dose of nationalism on display in the dressing room was pretty keen and inspiring, instead of wondering when we became Americans.

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I thought it was an example of sports psychologists run amok - the gold medal banners, the moronic contract players were asked to sign if they accepted "our identity." The list of former players to have worn each player's number. It was like The Manchurian Candidate meets Coach's Corner. Mercifully, we weren't treated to a torchlight parade.

On the door to the Russian dressing room, the Swedish team had fixed a piece of white tape with a congratulatory message on it. The Swedes were pointed in their criticism of Canada's talent level. So was the U.S.

You're beginning to get the picture, right? The Canadian media has helped create a monster, and twice, now, the monster has devoured the stars of the show. They don't like us. Nobody much likes us. That's reality, and we - all of us - best learn how to deal with it if we're going to invest as much currency, emotional or otherwise, in a bunch of kids.

Jeff Blair is host of a morning call-in show on The Fan 590 in Toronto, which is owned by Rogers Sportsnet.

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