Do Canadians care too much about the World Juniors?
I am just as guilty as most Canadian hockey fans. Every year, come boxing day, the only thing on my hockey mind is how team Canada will fair at the World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC).
The passion for me started several years ago, back when it was a small tournament primarily based in Europe and Canada would frequently win blow out games over incompetent teams trying to develop a hockey program.
Now, the tournament has been more watered down than ever. From a competitive standpoint, there are consistently 4 or 5 able teams, but the tournament features a 10-team slate. The weak competition is further proven by the fact that Canada won 5 straight gold medals before this past year, where the United States won gold, the last nation who had won it before Canada’s streak began.
So then why do the Americans not care about the tournament even close to as much as Canadians? Is it because they just don’t have the same passion for hockey? Probably. But I feel like Americans also have another option if their hockey teams are not performing. If Canada is not winning in hockey, they are not winning in much else on an international sports stage.
We don’t have a football trophy to fall back on, or baseball, or any other sport on the same scale. Canadians have a burning desire for hockey, which does serve a great cause to this nation as it brings us all together and unites us over a peaceful and often celebratory event. The truth however, is that the main reason we celebrate hockey the way we choose to is because it is the only sport we can consistently assert our dominance in, and no other country is close to as good.
Perhaps the worst thing to happen to the WJHC is it being held in Canada or the United States for what seems like every year dating back several. This tournament is the perfect tool to expand the sport of hockey and increase its popularity internationally. While the European hosts may not sell out arenas the same way Canadians do, it still has a better opportunity to attract a new audience to the game of hockey. By holding the tournament in North America every year, European interest seems to have steadily declined over the period of Canadian dominance.
What makes the tournament even less important to everyone involved is that if a player is under 20 and eligible, he may not even participate because he may be literally too good. There are a large number of Canadian players who are 19 years old and younger who have made an impact in the NHL and are therefore not able to leave there professional teams and participate in the WJHC.
In fact, the top two draft picks from this past years NHL Entry Draft (Canadians Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin) are all eligible, but neither is participating because they have made a difference for their NHL clubs.
This means that Canada is not even fielding its best possible team, once again demonstrating how the tournament has become less important, but also how Canada is simply too good in comparison to everyone else.
The reality of this tournament is that it has become too big for its own good. This is not Olympic hockey where all other leagues in the world are put on pause for the world to focus its attention on the best hockey any of us have ever seen. While the players and teams participating in the WJHC are admirable as well as exciting, they are not worthy of the attention us Canadians give them. The rest of the world does not care about the WJHC, so why should we care to the extent we do?
This is not to suggest that we are wasting our time supporting our World Juniors, but rather we should try and channel some of our energy to other sports in an attempt to grow our programs like the European nations are doing with their world juniors.