Early Thursday morning (or late Wednesday night for you West Coasters), the Canadian World Junior team was routed, 5-1, in their semifinal match versus Team USA. As usual, the loss led to the troubling question about where Canada sits among the world's top hockey nations and the inevitable identity issues that arise when the answer isn't an obvious "number one".
As is often the case when hockey and identity come together in my home and native land, Don Cherry had something to say. Turning once again to Twitter, which he has discovered during this lockout to be an excellent vehicle for his trademarked blend of hysterical nationalism and hot nonsense (although the medium is sorely lacking in piano desk), Cherry ranted hard on prospect development in Canada and abroad.
Just listening to the sports experts on radio and TV talking about our Canadian defeat. Saying we must give credit to the coaches and their development in foreign lands. Check out the stars on the foreign teams where the majority of them played and where they got their development and what coaches are coaching them in their development. You’ll find that it was Canadians in Junior Hockey.
I still say the Canadian Hockey League should be for Canadians either that or change the name. Some Canadian guy spends thousands on sticks, travel, equipment, pays his taxes and his kid is cut from the CHL for some kid who’s father never contributed a cent to Canada.
I know alot of people don’t agree with me and I look bad saying stuff like this. But I’ve gone a long time without worrying what people say. I know we lost. I am not a gracious guy.
Lets see how many guys from the tournament make the NHL. You’ll find Canada will be number one. Hey maybe I am a spoiled sport. But that’s the way I am and feel. Lots of people agree with me but when asked say the safe thing. I don’t blame them. As my mother used to say, if you don’t like my gate, don’t swing on it.
As Cherry himself points out, this is some terrible sportsmanship. Those that seek to undermine the victory by diminishing the importance of the contest -- as Cherry did when he suggested that, even though they lost the tournament, Canada would graduate more prospects to the NHL -- are what we would call sore losers.
Lord knows this tournament can't be that easily waved away in the eyes of this nation, especially since this rant isn't necessitated if Canada wins it. We all know that hockey is a massive part of Canada's national identity, but the World Junior tournament is evidence that it goes beyond being something we just really like. Canadians believe that we do hockey right and best, and exalt the prospects tournament as a way to confirm that this will still be so in the future.
A loss to the U.S., and a rout at that, is a threat to a core belief.
Thus, the ever-irrational Cherry's suggestion that the CHL be for Canadians only isn't that surprising. What do irrational people suggest when identity is being threatened by outsiders? Lock down the borders. I feel like he's on the verge of calling for us to either demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looks foreign or just build a wall.
If only he realized that any role the Canadian Hockey League played in our defeat was, at its core, very, very Canadian.
We like to say that Canada is a nation of immigrants, a cultural mosaic. But this has led, over time, to an identity crisis. What are we, who are we, besides a collection of different groups, people that have come from there and there before ending up here? No one really knows, but we all like hockey, has been the effective response for some time now.
Hockey's become a galvanizing agent, of sorts. Over time, we've used it to fill in the problematic identity gap created by a diasporic society by offering it to everyone that enters our borders.
Nevermind winning this tournament year after year. Heck, we of all people should know it's an unpredictable game and you can't win every time, especially in a single-game elimination tournament. These losses are not a threat to Canada's national identity, because it's not about how often we win at hockey. What Canada does best, win, lose, or draw (or shootout), is give hockey. To everyone. The moment we make our hockey exclusive is the moment we've lost the plot.
I know it's hard to do because losing sucks but, in my opinion, any role Canada plays in increasing the competition in this tournament is something that should be celebrated.