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Column: Overcoming the summer hockey blahs

A column on The 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships and the challenges they faced this year.
Canada wins World Junior 2022
Canada celebrates the win over Finland during overtime IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game action in Edmonton on Saturday August 20, 2022.

The 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships have finally come to an end. 

Nearly eight months after the tournament started, the competition wrapped up Saturday night. The beloved showcase of global junior hockey was shelved in late December thanks to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and all of the uncertainty that it caused.  

By now, you know that Canada won the tournament with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over Finland. It had the twist and turns and the wild momentum swings associated with the tournament. Canada led 2-0 early in the second, and had numerous chances to take the 3-0 stranglehold with five straight power plays, but Finland fought back to tie the game and send it to overtime. 

Mason McTavish – who was the best player in the tournament – made a game-saving defensive play for Canada in overtime, the type of play he might not be able to replicate if given a dozen opportunities. And then Kent Johnson scored the overtime winner less than a minute later.

It was the type of game we’ve come to expect with the World Juniors, except for the timing.

As a whole, this tournament had more going against it than any other in World Juniors history. For starters, it was played in August. A lot of NHL teams discouraged their top prospects from playing. There were at least half a dozen quality young players who were on Team Canada eight months ago who opted not to play once the World Juniors resumed a couple of weeks ago.

And most people aren’t thinking hockey. In the summer months, the only time I want to think about ice is if it’s in my drink, or if I’m getting a chilled mug from the freezer for my beer.  

Most of the Team Canada games started at 4 p.m. local time. Most days, I’m still working at that point. And if I’m not working, I’m out walking on one of our new pathways, or jogging at the Chamney Family Running Track by the Estevan Comprehensive School. I’m not adjusting my schedule to go home and watch a hockey game in August. 

And this tournament came on the heels of all the controversy associated with Hockey Canada, which started with their handling of a 2018 sexual assault allegation against players from the Canadian Hockey League, including members of the 2018 World Junior team.  

Since then, we’ve seen allegations regarding the 2003 team as well, and revelations about hockey registration fees going to a fund that, among other things, settled sexual assault claims.

Hockey Canada has deserved the criticism it received in the past three months. 

Attendance tanked during the tournament. The crowds for the round robin resembled those from the 1997 tournament in Switzerland. Even the gold medal game was not sold out.

Yes, part of the reason is because it was summer hockey. But the fallout over the sexual abuse scandal was the bigger factor. 

You saw minimal advertising on arena boards and on the ice, and only a few companies advertised on TSN’s broadcast of the tournament.

This tournament, when held in Canada, has traditionally been a licence to print money for Hockey Canada and TSN. That won’t be the case this year.

I’m thrilled for the kids who represented our country. I’m so excited that they won, and did so in dramatic fashion. They felt they had unfinished business after the way the previous tournament ended, and they overcame a lot to win a gold medal. 

There will be people who will criticize them for playing in this tournament due to all of the controversy associated with Hockey Canada and previous editions of the World Junior team, but keep in mind these kids had nothing to do with what happened.

They chose to sacrifice several weeks of their summer to go for gold and entertain us. They grew up watching this tournament and cheering for Canada, and when given the opportunity they seized it, despite the pressure of this tournament and the fact they’re paid nothing.  

We’ll see what happens next. Will we be in a more forgiving mood when the next World Juniors roll around in Halifax and Moncton in December? Will we be more willing to watch this beloved Canadian Christmas tradition? Will corporate sponsors come back? 

It’s hard to say. But at least for one August night, 23 Canadian kids reminded us why we love this tournament.