Ryan's Rant - World Junior Tradition

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By Terry Ryan

It's Christmas time again folks, and you know what that means.  It means presents, Santa, reindeer, eggnog, Jesus, and .....the World Junior Hockey Championships.  (I will admit that this is written from the perspective of a Canadian in yours truly, but all hockey loving countries can relate I am sure.)

As a Newfoundlander born in 1977, I vaguely remember hearing about the WJC in the 80's, more as a result of the 1987 Canada/Russia bench clearing brawl which resulted in one of the worst choices by any official(s) in any sporting event in history (the referees chose to turn out the lights in the building in order to restore order. Didn't work.) than anything else. But in 1990, Dwayne Norris, a St. John's native scored what turned out to be the winning goal for Canada in a tournament that wasn't set up for dramatic finishes as it is today.  My friends and I took notice, and in 1991, when John Slaney scored the game winning goal for team Canada against the USSR, I (as well as every other Newfoundlander) was hooked forever.  Watching the WJC became an annual event after that, and to this day it is a major part of our holiday tradition, in fact I got the idea to write this passage today as we sit here and watch the "WJC Preview" on TSN - "Canada's Sports Leader".

This brings me to my next point.  I follow most sports and admit to being a sports channel junkie.  I make the odd wager at a local convenience store here in Mount Pearl, NL on whichever event interests me.  Each night I take in the highlights from each of Canada's major sports networks - TSN, The Score, and Sportsnet - and I don't have a favorite, in fact I rate them all ahead of their American counterparts.  Not only because  I am biased because hockey is their number one priority, but because I think the broadcasters on Canadian networks seem to have a sense of humor to some degree and deliver the sporting news with a flashy style and always keep you guessing.  Nick Kypreos, Darren Dutchyshen, Tim Micallef - I think they are all great and entertaining to watch.

Getting back to the WJC, I want to mention that as my buddies and I conversed over holiday cocktails today in the rec-room of my parents house (a tradition going back almost 20 yrs now, minus the booze in the early 90's!) we commented on how this hockey tournament has come to be one of the defining moments in a large number of Canadian's holiday plans, and each and every year it gets bigger.  For us as Newfoundlanders, obviously Slaney and Norris scoring those big goals was the biggest factor in making our tradition what it is, but to most Canadians, I think TSN is the single biggest reason that today more than ever Christmas is hockey time in a country that already lives and breathes the sport.

I know what you're thinking; TSN did this for ratings, it was a business decision!  And to that I say yes, and a great one at that.  I am not so much thanking TSN as much as giving them credit for seeing an opportunity to cash in on an annual event that gains popularity every year, and they did this a long time ago.  Keep in mind I am writing this article on based on the assumption that this is a winning formula, but given the fact that TSN even has almost a weeks worth of "Preview" shows that keep getting bigger each year, I think that speaks for itself.

The concept works on so many levels.  Like it or not, hockey defines Canada.  The sport personifies our ancestors in the character and determination it takes to be successful, and this could be a reason so many of our wins as a country in International competition - highlighted by Paul Henderson's 1972 goal, one of the most important moments in our country's history - have been won on that unique intangible they call 'heart', the single quality that is accessible to anyone at any level if they want it bad enough, but also a quality that in it's purest form requires a certain kind of other-worldly gut-check that earns a guy his paycheck to say the least. In my mind, I think this may be the reason for the resurgence of certain countries like Russia on the world level.  Guys like Ovechkin have learned from this and play with Canadian-like passion. (Try skating at top speed and being hit by Dion Phaneuf, playing a playoff game in Philadelphia, or getting in front of a Zdeno Chara shot to prevent a goal. Or for that matter playing with injuries, knowing you will be injured and realizing that the chances on retiring with all your original teeth are unlikely). On top of this, Canadians like to drink at Christmas, or any traditional event for that matter.  Give us a reason, we are cracking a beer.  Santa Clause is coming to town?  Merry Christmas, break out the rum and eggnog.  Jesus is born? Hallelujah, let's celebrate his birth amongst friends over some drinks.  We are in a snowstorm and the power is out?  Grab all the drinks in the house and light the candles!  So the fact that a tradition like hockey supremacy at a festive time like Christmas in a hockey starved country like ours works on every level is a no-brainer.  I guess I should also point out that Canada has won the most WJC's of any country and from guys like Eric Lindros to Sidney Crosby to Jordan Eberle, we have had star power representation at the tournament and I am sure that helped things!

TSN, though, have a always been the channel us Canadians tune into during the holidays to watch some of yesterdays hopefuls, todays national heroes and tomorrows millionaires take to the ice wearing the Red and White with pride. I want to point out the fact that I think some of their ideas are a little over the top as well, and that I have no affiliation to TSN.  I think it's a little much with all the time dedicated to that "Tradecentre" thing on trade deadline day - a minutely update on what teams made the best business decisions and which players may jump ship at season's end.  But over the years, Bob MacKenzie and company have provided excellent analysis and coverage of our future heroes.  After Sid the Kid scored "the golden goal" in February (our generations'  version of the Henderson snipe) it was hard not to picture him dominating the WJC just a few years back while wearing the Canadian uniform with the pride of a true captain.  

I always wanted to play in the WJC and didn't get the chance.  My best junior year was played in 1994-95 for Tri-City in the WHL. I was a long shot anyway but despite great personal statistics it was a lock-out year and all the NHL guys came back to play (and dominated the tournament and won gold which was held in Red Deer that season).  After becoming a top ten pick in '95 and 2 years of eligibility left, I thought I had a chance.  However, the next 2 years were plagued by concussion problems and a small but very possible window shut for me which was a little depressing to be honest. To be honest, I thought I would be turned off from watching, but I wasn't.  I was glued to the set when the 1996 team hoisted the trophy in Boston and shed a tear of joy when my WHL linemate Daymand Langkow raised the trophy in awe.  As the years rolled by, I don't remember missing many games, if any. I have come to realize that we as Canadians love to watch our character tested and we get together  and relish the opportunity to watch it on the tube whenever possible.  Watching Joannie Rochette take home a bronze medal in figure skating at this years Olympics in Vancouver days after her mother's tragic death bring us all together.   Seeing mogul skier Alex Bilodeau's performance in the same Olympics as he brought home our country's first gold in front of a home crowd and a tight-knit family led by handicapped brother Frederic are the things that unite us like no other whether we realize it or not.  To us it proves our character to the world and this seems to be one of the things we as a nation are truly proud of. Christmas is a festive time for family and friends, and the WJC is a social event that has it all - good stories told with good friends over a few cold ones as we watch with pride, while 22 young Canadian men wear that pride on their sleeves in hopes of becoming the next Sidney Crosby.


Check Back Every Week For 'Ryan's Rant' By Terry Ryan

Also watch for Terry Ryan's book, 'Tales Of A First Round Nothing'



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