January 10, 2014
The next meeting between Warren Rychel and Brent Sutter might make a polar vortex feel like a sauna.
Unless you've been there, one cannot understand what it's like to a hockey man such as Rychel to be around a flawed team that's in someone else's hands, seeing what's not working but not having power to change it. That's the situation the Windsor Spitfires GM and vice-president faced during the world junior championship while his son, Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Kerby Rychel, played a secondary role for Team Canada. And, of course, Canada's loss to Russia in the bronze-medal game on Sunday constituted (not really) a national calamity, giving the country back-to-back years without a medal for the first time since Hockey Canada organized a true national under-20 team.
The elder Rychel was an intermission on Ottawa's TSN 1200 during Thursday's 67's-Spitfires telecast and sounded off, just a bit. Even better, he included specifics.
From Lee Versage:
It was awful... it sucked, really. The team had no camaraderie. I don't know what the situation was there. Kids were playing out of position. We [Canada] were down two games, no line changes were made, we had guys playing centre, they were playing left wing. Connor McDavid didn't play. You put him in a shootout [against the Czech Republic after he had been benched in the third period] and he's ice-cold.
"There was really no camaraderie between the players in my personal opinion, as a hockey guy sitting there, whether it was my son or wasn't. But it didn't seem like the cards were in line for us to win a medal. So that's my honest opinion and maybe people disagree, but it just never seemed to feel confident, watching the team play with zip or play with zest. People say, 'well you have to play more physical' but you know how it's called over there — as soon as you lay a finger on somebody the whole crowd yells, you're in the box.
"... It just didn't seem right from the start. We got what we deserved — which was nothing.
" ... It was a lot of individual play by some guys who wouldn't move the puck at the proper time. You know, you can say you can have a big camp and everyone gets tired [or] you can have a small camp. I think, you have 10 '95 or younger born players. It's really a '94 tournament. Yeah, you bring [16-year-old] McDavid and [17-year-old defenceman Aaron] Ekblad. They're that good. After a while you've got to get some men in there that are 19 years old who can push people around and make plays.
"Whether it was a tune-up for next year or not, we bring so many '95s, people were saying back in Canada it's a tuneup for next year. In that case you should have brought [the London Knights'] Max Domi, in my opinion. We needed skill, we needed more things to happen when we got the puck. It just didn't happen." (TSN 1200 Ottawa, starting at 6:00)
The point seems fairly evident. It's not so much that Canadian hockey is in crisis. This one team wasn't handled well and, mea culpa, expecting it to break out was just an exercise in unflagging optimism. Still, Canada's second-youngest lineup in its WJC history would have lucked into a silver medal by beating Finland in the semifinal. A pinball goal also gave Russia its winning margin in the bronze game.
How Hockey Canada takes Rychel's venting is anyone's guess. It is doing very well on the business side; the size of its revenue stream isn't predicated on the national junior team finishing first or fourth. Its changes to the under-17 program can also be used as evidence it's realized it cannot stick with the status quo isn't acceptable.
Meantime, Rychel gave voice a lot of frustration. One hopes it leads to some dialogue, instead of being ignored.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.