I Don't Like Mondays — January 4, 2016
As former NFL coach Dennis Green once observed, “They were who we thought they were.” Indeed, the 2016 iteration of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, held this year in beautiful Helsinki, let everyone know early on that they were not the most focused group the country had dispatched to win the WJC gold medal.
They were who we thought they were.
If you remember the final warm-up game against the Swedes, Canada had a wide cushion in the third period. It then fell to taking penalties, running around like Justin Trudeau in search of a selfie. The goaltending from Flames prospect Mason McDonald was something less than bullet proof. When the ice chips settled, Canada had preserved a narrow 7-6 win. But confidence was shaken.
At the time, the fire drill was written off to jet lag, unfamiliarity with each other and maybe a bad bunch of IKEA meatballs in the pregame meal. But as the tournament wound along it was clear that this Team Canada was going to have a tough time finding its bliss. Yes, it was a young team under coach Dave Lowry, but it was also a team lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.
That quoi was probably maturity. The quarterfinal loss to Finland on Saturday showed that in spades. Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen was the principle offender here. When he wasn’t taking bad double penalties he was being easily shoved aside on puck chases. His teammates took petulant reaction penalties (Canada had nine penalties total) and, outside Toronto prospect Mitch Marner, had little clutch ability.
Coach Lowry was clearly given a tough hand, but the team’s indiscipline and the failure of the special teams has to be held at his door. In short, there was plenty of responsibility to spread around.
How you felt about Team Canada’s worst WJC outing since 1998 depended on your perspective. In Vancouver, where negativity hangs over hockey the way clouds hang over Grouse Mountain, the Province newspaper took Virtanen’s foibles a tad personally. In a screaming headline on the back page it proclaimed “Goat-medal Winner” over a picture of the Canucks prospect.
The reaction to the newspaper was visceral. Canucks fans lamented that Virtanen would now be traumatized about playing in Vancouver. Canadian hockey fans said it was piling on. The world thought Canadians had slipped a bolt.
Look, these are teenagers away at Christmas in a foreign land, so any criticism has to be light. Virtanen will not be in the cover of Hockey Canada’s guide next year. He has time to rebound. As does the squad. Let’s just say this wasn’t Hockey Canada’s best effort and hope they can improve next year when the tournament returns to Canada.
The NFL regular season came to an end Sunday with a bunch of whodunnits’ for fans looking forward to the playoffs. Some teams sprinted across the finish line (Seattle, Kansas City, Washington, Carolina), some collapsed over the finish line (New England, Denver, Arizona) and Green Bay wound up DOA at the tape.
But we have lots of storylines, starting with the Broncos.
Denver: The win by the Broncos was overshadowed by the Lazurus return of Peyton Manning, left for dead recently. The Man From Papa Johns led Denver to a win after Brock Osweiler turned over the ball five times. Who will the Broncs start in two weeks? Peyton or the prospect? Expect this topic to choke talk radio for 14 days.
New England: The Patriots have looked very ordinary in losing their final two and playing blah football for a month. Yes, there are injuries, but this feels different. But it wouldn’t be the first time Bill Belichick’s team entered the postseason looking tarnished but then won the Lombardi Trophy silver. Tom Brady means you never have to say you’re sorry.
Arizona: See the Pats above. The seemingly invincible Cardinals were whipped at home by Seattle Sunday after winning nine straight. What to believe: the Seahawks massacre or the run of dominance? Only Carson Palmer knows for sure.
Kansas City: The Chiefs found their stride after horrible start and have rolled into the playoffs. But coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith are hardly synonymous with playoff success. Their next Super Bowl run will be their first.
Washington: Anyone in an isolation tank since the summer would be stunned at stories about Kirk Cousins starring at QB and Jay Gruden’s team with a home game in the postseason. Who are these guys? After all the RGIII circus we’re about to find out. If they win, Jon Gruden might have some competition for the most famous football Gruden.
Carolina: The Panthers quietly rolled to their 15th win, guaranteeing home field advantage as long as they play. Cam Newton is a lock for MVP. Their defence is airtight. Unless someone knows of a team that’s better the Panthers go in as heavy faves for the Super Bowl crown.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).