Zize Matters: The pressure's on
Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency
|Team junior Canada's Brayden Schenn celebrates a goal against the Czech Republic during last year's world championship in Buffalo. (REUTERS)
Sometimes we forget just how much pressure is heaped on those kids who tug on that red-and-white Team Canada jersey for the world junior hockey championship every December.
Sometimes we forget that these hockey heroes who carry the hopes of an entire nation during each and every holiday season are just teenagers, some not even old enough to legally go out for a golden frosty beverage after one of their games.
Brayden Schenn hasn’t forgotten.
Two years ago, Schenn, representing Canada at the tournament for the first time, was on the losing end of a gut-wrenching 6-5 overtime defeat to the rival Americans in the title game.
One year later, Schenn, despite winning tournament MVP honours, was crushed after his Canadians blew a 3-0 third- period lead en route to a frustrating 5-3 setback to the Russians in the gold medal tilt.
As the candidates for this year’s edition of the Team Canada juniors gather later this week in Calgary for a training camp that runs Dec. 10-14, history will show that Canada’s two-year gold-medal drought is a disappointment. Some critics would go as far as to say the past two squads have been failures.
Brayden Schenn doesn’t see things that way.
Maybe those teams failed in their goal to win a championship. But that doesn’t make the individual players “failures.” Not when you poured so much blood and sweat trying to reach the dream, gold or no gold.
To that end, Schenn, now a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, regularly stays in touch with Mark Visentin, the Niagara IceDogs goalie who returns to Team Canada’s selection roster after being beaten for all five of those Russian goals in the championship game last January in Buffalo.
“I actually just talked to him,” Schenn said during a phone interview from California, where the Flyers are in the midst of a west-coast trip. “I really hope they do well.”
Schenn acknowledges he will be following as many Team Canada games as possible, Of course, he understands that, as he watches the broadcasts, there will be constant reminders of how the past two Canadian sides were forced to settle for silver.
“Obviously, for myself and a few others who were on those teams, it’s tough to see those highlights, especially with the streak of (five gold medals) Canada won before that,” Scehnn said. “Obviously Canada wants redemption.
“As for me, I’ve moved on. You have to.”
To put into perspective what these kids go through each and every year, keep in mind that your NHL heroes do not have an annual all-star tournament like the world juniors in which entire nations follow the action shift by shift.
The Olympics? Those only take place every four years.
The world hockey championship? While that tournament means a lot to the countries on the other side of the Atlantic, it does not feature the so-called “best-of-the-best” because the NHL playoffs are on at the same time.
The world junior, on the other hand, is an all-star showcase of under-20 talent that kicks off every December and runs into January. The only stars of this age group who aren’t featured are the draft picks whose NHL teams have opted to keep them up at the pro level.
In Canada, the tournament has become a holiday tradition, much like U.S. college football bowl games used to be on New Year’s Day before the BCS scattered the schedule.
“There always are huge expectations,” Schenn said. “Millions of people are watching you wearing those jerseys. Little kids at home are dreaming of one day being in your shoes.
“It’s probably one of the most fun things I ever watched growing up.”
Schenn admits that, for every player who wears the maple leaf on his chest, it’s gold or bust. He has no problem with that. Everyone knows the lofty expectations that are omnipresent once the first puck is dropped.
Eleven months ago in Buffalo, Schenn set a record by registering 18 points, the most ever recorded by a Canadian player in the tournament. But that was no consolation for the heartbreak he and his teammates felt at watching those coveted gold medals dangling around the necks of the champion Russians.
In the end, it’s your prerogative to consider the outcome produced by this edition of Team Canada a “failure” if it does not bring home the gold medal from the upcoming tournament in Edmonton.
Just don’t call the individual kids like Visentin “failures” if that happens. From the moment they are selected to pull on that jersey, they are anything but.