Sometimes you lose. Even if you’re Canada.
Sometimes you get goalied. Sometimes a shot bounces off a stick, a shin pad, and the post with 11 seconds left in a tie game. Sometimes the injury bug gets you. Sometimes more of the best players in an age group stick in the NHL than other times. Sometimes all of those things happen at once.
Sometimes there are real excuses, and luck doesn’t go your way. Sometimes you go to four straight gold medal games but you can’t get to a fifth. Canada isn’t promised success in international hockey. If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering the world juniors over the years, it’s that hockey is never more unpredictable than on this stage in particular. Canada, if not for a puck off of the butt end of Thomas Milic’s stick, could have lost in the quarterfinal a year ago, never to get Connor Bedard’s magical overtime goal in Halifax. Canada, if not for a miraculous goal-line save from Mason McTavish, never would have gotten Kent Johnson’s golden goal two years ago in Edmonton, either. For all the talk of their attempt to three-peat this year for the first time since 2009, Canada could have easily been 0-for-2 coming in. They got the bounce those years. This year, they didn’t.
Sometimes you have one returnee. Next year, you might have as many as eight.
Sometimes you’ve got a 19-year-old age group that didn’t have an under-17 program and didn’t play in a Hlinka Gretzky Cup or an under-18 worlds because of a pandemic.
“This ’04 group, it has been difficult for them,” Hockey Canada’s national teams head Scott Salmond said on Wednesday. “In essence, they’re learning on the job. They’re here, getting (their first) international experience, at the most critical time … We’ve got the basis of good teams going forward. If this happened on a more consistent basis, then I’d be concerned. And I’m concerned anyways.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t blame to go around for the way this tournament played out for Canada.