The United States beat Canada 2-0 in the finals of hockey’s World Junior Championship last night at Edmonton. After the game, the U.S. kids brought a barrel with Canada’s logo onto the ice to celebrate. Canada took this as a sign of disrespect, though no one has said exactly why.
Canada can’t just lose when it comes to hockey. There’s always an excuse, or they were somehow wronged. That’s what happens when a game fuels your national self-esteem.
The barrel had significance re: The U.S. team’s process.
The coach, Nate Leaman, told his players a story about crossing a barren, 500-mile stretch of the Sahara Desert. Everything looked the same in every direction. There was no horizon, just sand. Sand covered what passed for a road. So, the road was marked with big 55-gallon oil drums spaced five kilometers apart. The next barrel was the only thing visible on the horizon.
The goal was to get to the next barrel. Make progress one barrel at a time.
It’s just a variation on “one game at a time.” There’s nothing sinister or insulting about it. The U.S. team had a barrel with each opponent’s logo on it.
But Canada got mad, because that’s what Canada does when it loses at hockey.
There’s nothing even remotely wrong or disrespectful with the U.S. kids brandishing that barrel. They recognized the team’s process.
If Canada doesn’t like it, then win the game. Score a goal, at least.
But Canada’s minds are distorted when it comes to hockey.
Consider the 1972 Summit Series. The first time Canadian pros played Soviet “amateurs.”
It was epic. The Soviets won two, tied one and lost one on Canadian ice. The next four games were in Moscow. The Soviets won the first. To win the series, Canada had to win out.
Canada did. It was amazing.
Nobody ever played hockey better than Phil Esposito did on Moscow ice. Canada rallied from 5-3 down in Game 8 with three third-period goals. Paul Henderson scored with 34 seconds remaining to give Canada a 6-5 win and the series. Henderson had the game-winner in each of the last three games. It was a triumph of the will.
That series has been endlessly romanticized in Canadian hockey lore. It should be.
But certain facts get omitted from that romanticizing.
Canada was supposed to win every game. The Hockey News predicted an 8-0 sweep. (That was based on Canadian ego. The Soviets had long since proven themselves a hockey power.)
The pivotal moment in the series was criminality perpetrated by Canada. In Game 6, Bobby Clarke took a two-handed slash that broke the ankle of Soviet winger Valeri Kharlamov, arguably his team’s best player. Kharlamov missed Game 7 and played crippled in Game 8.
If not for Clarke’s slash, the Soviets win the series.
Then again, if Canada wasn’t dumb enough to exclude Bobby Hull from their team because he’d left the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks to sign with the newly-formed World Hockey Association, the series doesn’t come down to Clarke’s slash. Hull was the most dynamic player in hockey.
Clarke’s slash is idealized in Canada: “We’d do anything to win.” (Except put Hull on the team.)
In this case, that mentality made winning fruit of a poisoned tree.
What the U.S. did in 1980 at the Lake Placid Olympics is far more impressive and important than what Canada did in the ’72 Summit Series.
Thumbnail via Getty Images.