Hockey is Canada’s game. It’s a tired proverb, but it’s one that’s not up for discussion. Though Sweden and Russia carry elite squads of their own — featuring names like Ovechkin, Datsyuk, the Sedins and Lidstrom floating among the game’s best — these nations still don’t possess the overwhelming population within the NHL that Canada does. In 2015, there was an overwhelming 37.9 percent of NHL draftees who came from Canada — a nation with a population 10 percent of the size of America’s. Compare that to the 36 percent of players coming from all of Europe, and it’s clear that Canada still possesses a strong hold on hockey talent.
To borrow from Canadians’ favourite cliché, Hockey is a religion in Canada, with the NHL serving as merely one of a plethora of media through which Canadians get their hockey hit. The Olympics are, of course, a favorite, with Canadian teams having come out on top in both men’s and women’s hockey in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. It is even a common joke that a Canadian “B-team,” made up of players who were cut from the “A-team” roster could still contend for a medal. But beyond that, there is the annual International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Championship that Canada won in 2015, the underappreciated Spengler Cup in Switzerland that Canada consistently dominates and a special holiday tournament like no other — the World Juniors.
Officially known as the IIHF World Junior Championship, the tournament is a holiday tradition for Canadians, as it runs from the day after Christmas — Boxing Day, as we call it — until Jan. 5, where the best under-20 players from around the world compete for the ultimate glory of being named World Junior Champions. This tournament is a spectacle to showcase up and coming talent and, above all, celebrate the love of the game.
In the same way that college football is a quasi-religious sporting experience to Americans, the World Juniors is a unique niche that effectively transcends sport, to romanticize things and celebrate the love of a sport before contracts and politics get involved to muddle the waters of passion. Whereas college football often consists of exploitation and controversy, the World Juniors showcases hockey at its most innocent, as the young guns making up the teams are on the pinnacle of greatness. Few other nations tune in to cheer on their junior national squad in quite the same way Canada does. It’s a case of fandom and sport gone right, which unfortunately can’t be said very often in the ever-corrupt world of professional sports.
Admittedly, the 2016 World Juniors is perhaps a tournament Canadians would like to forget, as the team fell to eventual champions Finland to “finish” sixth. Though this might have have been an off-year for the team on the ice, it wasn’t an off-year back at home where all of Canada cheered on a group of young guys playing the game they love, which is what sport should be.
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