January 6, 2007
Team Canada too good?
By TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN
Can Canada kill the golden goose by winning too much gold?
Will the world junior begin to lose its lustre if Canada doesn't stumble soon?
That was not a question being asked four years ago when the true north strong and free failed for a seventh straight season to win gold at the IIHF U-20 event.
And it certainly was not a concern when Canada won five straight gold medals to help bring the country out of a grand national funk - remember how those debates and sport institutional and government studies on the state of the game made our blood boil?
But suddenly Canada has claimed three straight world juniors, all the while matching the record of 18-straight wins from the five-in-a-row title run in the mid-'90s. Canada also gave up just seven goals in the entire tournament.
BROKE EURO CURSE
And now, by winning one on the big European ice for the first time in 10 years, that bugaboo is gone, too.
The only thing which can kill the phenomenon of the world junior in Canada is when winning gold becomes viewed as not being much of an accomplishment.
This one was in danger of that until the compelling semifinal in which the Americans outshot the Canadians 12-2 in overtime before Canada won in a nerve-racking seven-round shootout.
That game made yesterday's 4-2 win over Russia in the gold medal game by Craig Hartsburg's team, without a doubt, another 24 carat gold accomplishment.
It gave Canada another set of young hockey heroes to follow in the future when they become NHLers including two - goaltender Carey Price and forward Jonathan Toews - who put their names on the tournament and will be remembered for years.
While watching the Canadian kids celebrate, play-by-play man Gord Miller said "this never gets old.''
But it could.
Hartsburg was in a no-win situation taking this job following Brent Sutter's back-to-back run to put Canada on top of the world again. Hartsburg's greatest accomplishment may have been defeating complacency from the previous two successes with 12 veterans on the team.
Next year's world junior is in Pardubice and Liberec in the Czech Republic. The following year it's in Ottawa.
After the tournament filled NHL buildings in Vancouver last year, the event has become so big in Canada, with so much money involved, the IIHF is going to find it almost impossible not to bring it to this country every second year.
If it hadn't been for the fact Canada will play host to next year's World Hockey Championships in Quebec City and Halifax to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the IIHF - the first time the event will be held in the home of hockey - it would probably have been back here in 2008.
The world junior is a massive event in only one country - Canada. It is only moderately successful - and even then only for the home country and medal round games - in smaller centres and 8,000-seat rinks in Europe like the ones in remote northern Sweden where this one was held.
It's become so massive in Canada that even the Europeans want their players to experience the world junior in Canada as often as possible now. The most likely locations for the next one in Canada after Ottawa 2009 are Calgary or Edmonton. Or both.
But can they keep it compelling until then if Canada doesn't lose games or tournaments in the meantime?
WHO CARES? THEY WON
Not a question most Canadians are asking today as we celebrate a third straight gold medal at an event which has proved once again to matter to the point of being a nation-stopping event when they go for gold.
It's terrific to be at the top of the world again and again and again. But is it good for the worlds?