The roller coaster that is the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) rarely lacks drama, and the 2021 tournament lived up to previous incarnations.
Last year at this time, Canada had just beaten host team Russia in the final after trailing by two goals in the third period. Facing the same deficit in the gold medal final against the United States at home on January 5, this year’s collection of talented players were unable to muster a comeback, or even a goal over 60 minutes of play in a 2-0 loss.
Whenever a Canadian hockey team loses in a best-on-best tournament, the possibility of a national crisis arises. Are we still the best?
Since 2010, the United States has won the WJHC on four occasions. Canada and Finland follow with three each, while Russia has one.
Prior to 2010, Canada had won gold five straight times, when there was no doubt which country was best at the junior level. Since then, the jury is out and the top contenders, including Russia and Sweden, remain closely matched. Canada is always there, often reaching the final, but the Americans and Fins are in the conversation now, and by beating Canada in the final for the third time in the last decade, the United States is pushing to claim status as the top country at the U20 level.
Winning is no longer a given for Canada. Once it gets down to the semi-final stage, anyone can win.
Losing in the final should no longer be seen as a failure. A silver medal, considering the competition, is an accomplishment. For those unable to accept that reality, the tournament comes around every year. Golden glory may only be 12 months away, but several nations are chasing it.