Be proud of our world juniors bronze

Team Canada waves to the crowd as they celebrate winning bronze at the world juniors in Calgary,...

Team Canada waves to the crowd as they celebrate winning bronze at the world juniors in Calgary, Alberta, on January 5, 2012. (MIKE DREWQMI AGENCY)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:48 PM ET

As the autopsy of the 2012 world junior hockey championship takes place over the coming days, weeks and months, Canadians can choose to look at the results in one of two ways.

Either with concern over the fact their country hasn’t won a gold medal in three years — or with pride over the way the kids thrown together as a team for a matter of weeks managed to overcome one crushing semifinal loss and claim the bronze medal Thursday in Calgary.

If you share that second view, you’re also likely one of those who can accept the fact Canada is no longer alone at the top of the world when it comes to the playing a game we indisputably cherish more than any other nation.

That’s not to say Canada’s program is weakening and that setting their sights on a gold medal every year is unrealistic. Two silvers and a bronze over the last three holiday seasons is a bigger haul than any of the gold winners have achieved over the same stretch — the U.S. (2010 champs) were blanked this year, Russia (2011 gold) failed to medal two years ago and new champ Sweden missed the podium a year ago.

Depending on the crop of kids eligible from winter to winter, any one of the mainstream hockey countries — Canada, Russia, Sweden, U.S. or Finland — could come out on top of a tournament like this.

It’s healthy for Canada to aim for gold every year.

It’s outrageous to expect or demand it any more.

“The tournament is very competitive,” Canadian head coach Don Hay said during his final news conference Thursday afternoon. “There are very good teams here.”

Fans saw the two best clash for gold later that night.

Sweden earned that right with a shootout win over Finland. Russia did it for beating Canada by a single goal in the other semifinal.

And after Sweden came away with an exciting overtime victory over Russia to snap a 31-year gold drought at the tournament, nobody watching in the crowd or on TV could sanely argue it was a disappointing or anti-climactic finish.

Of course, it would’ve been better for the hosts to be involved in that pivotal game. But to suggest the world juniors stop being relevant when the Canadians are eliminated from gold contention is ignorant and egomaniacal — an attitude our country has adopted too often over the years when it comes to hockey.

How is it this one sport turns one of the most polite and passive nations in the world into such unbearable beasts come Boxing Day?

Teaching kids to aim high in whatever they do — whether it’s hockey or hotel management — is an important life lesson.

But there are plenty of positives to take away from a tournament like this — even when their ultimate goal hasn’t been attained. Every player walks away better for the experience, more capable of handing adversity at other levels of hockey, or maybe in other walks of life.

“It’s been one of the best experiences of my lifetime,” said Canadian blueliner Dougie Hamilton of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, a Boston Bruins first-round pick last year.

“Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted, but I think moving on in my career with the pressure and the circumstances that we went through … I think is something you’ve got to learn from.”

Brett Connolly, who quickly re-joined the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning after the tournament, believes the event will make those able to take part again next year even stronger.

“We’ll move on as players, and the guys that are fortunate enough to come back and play in the tournament next year — the younger guys — I think it’ll be a good experience for them moving forward, to be leaders on next year’s team,” Connolly said.

“We’re all proud of our bronze medal.”

The rest of the country should be proud of them for that.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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