Hockey Canada: the team to beat

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Jan. 14, 2009

When Jordan Eberle scored for Canada to tie the world junior semifinal with only 5.4 seconds left , the heartbeats for nine million square kilometres simultaneously skipped.

Canada then rolled through the resulting shootout and a less-than-dramatic gold medal game en route to yet another Canadian hockey triumph. For players and coaches, it was a highlight moment of their lives; for the fans, it was another notch on the belt for a country that remains the world’s most dominant hockey superpower.

If you listed all the tournaments Hockey Canada has won over the decades, it looks like winning is just a normal outcome for this nation, and in a way that’s true.

We never enter an event with the thought of second place, and if gold isn’t achieved, the country literally mourns in defeat.

It’s because of this that Canada continues to sit at the top of the pile. We remain No. 1 because the people here refuse to allow hockey to slip from our grasp.

We remain No. 1 because, when we falter, the country loses its collective mind.

In 1998, Canada finished fourth at the Olympics and eighth at the world junior’s, and panic tore through the nation.

Panic should be an exaggeration, because that’s supposed to be reserved for life and death, but panic it was.

A national inquiry was held to source out the reasons behind Canada’s dethroning.

How we became so slow and unskilled was being asked all around the country. The European teams and the U.S. had not just caught us in skill, but passed us.

Of course, it’s possible the sky wasn’t falling. Let’s face facts, Canada has to deal with every team’s best effort each and every time out and sometimes it’s possible for things to go the other way. If we really want to nitpick, those in charge of picking Team Canada could have decided Rob Zamuner wasn’t ‘just what this country needs’ to win Olympic gold, but GM Bob Clarke has faced his own conscious for that, we hope.

Nevertheless, Hockey Canada revamped and decided all-out dominance would be the only acceptable avenue for the future of Canadian hockey.

We could have simply conceded that hockey is an international sport, or that competing with the richer and more populous U.S. couldn’t be sustained.

Instead, however, we turned our minor hockey programs and strategies inside-out and rebuilt our stick-swinging army.

Necessary or not, it worked.

More than a decade later, we own the peak of the heap again. We are back to clobbering our foes anyway we can, and we do it with military precision.

Whether it comes in 15-0 humiliations, or last-second heroics, it seems the outcome is inevitable once again. We are better than they are, and we know it.

What really gets ‘em is they know it too.

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