Can the Streak be Broken in Canada (2015 World Juniors)

2015_wjc_groups_640_eThe World Juniors are back in Canada and for the Canadians that is adding a lot more pressure to an already pressure filled tournament. Every year it is not just sought but expected that the Canadians will win gold in the World Juniors. Anything less is a failure in the eyes of Hockey Canada and the Canadian fans. Yet in the last five years the Canadians have fallen short of that expectations. Now they are placed in the two largest Canadian cities and the two Canadian cities with the most ravenous hockey fan bases. That is going to only increase the pressure of the tournament for the Canadians as they will play in major arenas that are home to two of the most popular NHL teams with NHL size crowds all cheering or Canada to win the gold. The Canadians used to rule the tournament, at one point winning 5 straight Gold Medals. It never seemed like any other country could figure out how to beat them with their best young talent. It was a simple reason for this, the Canadian system was simply better. After all they had spent years as the best nation in the world in the sport and it is the national sport. Hockey is engrained in Canada’s history and for years they have been developing a system to keep them at the top of the hockey world. With such a long history the Canadians developed a system that could produce the top players in the world and keep them among the best countries in the World Juniors. Eventually the other teams caught up to the Canadians when their best players developed and the world championships reflected that. Still the other countries couldn’t find a way to develop their younger players faster and so Canada remained the gold standard of developing young talent and in turn brought more NHL ready players to the biggest league in the world. As the gold standard for developing talent the Canadians saw plenty of other countries look into their system to find ways that they could compete. That is exactly what started to happen as teams began looking at the Canadian system and began to build better youth systems of their own. As the other countries started to change their systems the talent level began to rise and teams started getting better. Canada remained the top team but other teams were catching up and as hockey grew in these other countries the writing was on the wall as Canada could no longer run through the entire tournament on their way to the gold medal. They were beginning to struggle against teams that had rarely been much of a challenge. It continued that way until 2010 when the USA surprisingly got the best of Canada and won the gold medal. The USA was one of these teams that had rarely challenged for medals consistently and now they had beaten the powerhouse Canadians. That set off a five-year stretch where four different teams won gold medals, none of them named Canada. The rest of the world has caught up to the Canadians and as many problems as fans may want to point out the fact is that they are just one of the many great development systems in the world now.

The Canadians enter a new tournament with a new focus as they try to take the gold in front of a home crowd. Still the rest of the world has caught up and the list of contenders continues to grow year by year. This year is no different as the Finnish team comes in as the champions for the first time in 15 years. After looking like they could be contenders for a number of years the Fins finally got to the top and took home a title. They enter the tournament once again as a strong competitor but are far from the only team that can take the gold. Russia is once again back and looking strong while the Swedes and Americans are sure to put up a fight. All of these teams return as a true test to the Canadians who will be under pressure to perform on home soil. Everyone else will simply be looking to play spoiler. It is quite possible that the Canadians go another tournament without winning a gold but they are sure putting together a team that can do it. As they continue to build towards their singular goal the top teams will provide challenges and the smaller teams will look at them as their gold medal game. The Canadians will have to walk a minefield to get through everything as every game is watched closely and will be reported on with plenty of focus. The rest of the teams won’t have near the amount of scrutiny and focus on them. That could give many of those teams the advantage in the tournament. Overall the fact is that the Juniors are only getting better and despite the focus or lack thereof on any team. Every country is getting better and that makes this tournament closer every year and this should be no difference. With a strong group of competitors and the odd surprise sure to rear its head at some point this year’s World Juniors looks to be great. It is no longer a sure bet about the medals and only the two weeks of hectic hockey can solve anything as the Canadians try to win at home while the rest of the teams look to play spoilers.

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