Thursday, November 6, 2008

World Junior A Challenge Alienating International Teams?

Canada West beat Russia 5-2 in a huge game for them at the World Junior A Challenge. After a shoot out loss against Belarus the CW team needed a big rebound. The two time defending champions got that on Tuesday night. Click here for a game summary.

To me that's not the big story.

Something from Cam Tait's blog caught my eye:
"Things turned ugly when the Russians skated off the ice, refusing to line-up on their blue line for the rational post-game ceremony. Before that, the Russian goalie made an obscene gesture towards fans at the Edgeworth Centre."

At first glance you would just think it's another case of a bunch of immature sore losers, right? But wait, there's more!

"When reporters gathered for their post-game interviews, Hockey Canada officials said the Russians weren’t going to talk to the media. We were basically told that Hockey Canada wasn’t allowing the Russians to speak to us."
"THERE WERE QUESTIONS begging to be asked. How did the Russians feel about their parade to the penalty box in the second period when they took nine infractions in a row?"

Interesting. I take particular interest in this because I was directly involved in last year's World Junior A Challenge in Trail, and this gives me flashbacks. I can't tell you how many people have talked to me about what they've called the shamefully biased officiating in last year's tournament. I'm talking about Canadian fans who were embarrassed at how the international teams got jerked around by the refs. I'm not one for calling out officials. I think they have a tough job to do and take way too much flack for doing it. That being said, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it sounds like a duck...

At last year's tournament Belarus was in a tight 2-2 battle with Canada West before the officials took over and basically handed Canada West the game. Belarus probably deserved more penalties than Canada West did, but not to the alarming extent they were called. As a result, the Belarusian team flipped out in the third period. They started gooning Canadian players and their bench nearly got into a physical altercation with the Canada West bench. It was a shameful display that you rarely see in international hockey.

Earlier in that week Canada West lost a tight battle against Russia in the preliminary round. They had about 235 power play opportunities in the second period alone. Eventually Canada West was able to come back and tie the game, but they still ended up losing. The Russian team was very unhappy with how the game was called. However, their victory probably took the sting out of it that night.

Both Canadian teams limped to the semi-finals in games that were closer than they should have been. I didn't see either semi-final game (I was on the road in Merritt with the Smokies) but I've been told by local fans that those games were full of questionable calls that favoured the Canadian teams. Both Canada East and West won their games and made it to the final. The United States and Russia, the teams that most felt had played the best hockey in last year's tournament, ended up facing off in a very entertaining bronze medal game. The Canadian teams battled for gold in what just amounted to a showcase of Canadian talent instead of a real emotional battle for national pride.

The tournament itself was a wonderful success. They sold thousands of tickets and packed the Cominco Arena with fans from the entire Kootenays. However, the event was tarnished in the eyes of many hockey fans by the questionable officiating.

It looks like history is repeating itself.

It's fair to blame the Russians for their offensive behaviour last night. A respectful athlete wins and loses with class. However, when Canadian teams continue to benefit from an excess of power plays from one year to the next, I believe it's time to start asking questions. I also think they are in major danger of alienating the top international teams. If Russia feels like they've been jobbed two years in a row why the heck would they come back for next year's tournament?

I'm not accusing Hockey Canada of fixing these games. I am saying it's up to them to ensure that the officials do their jobs right. The credibility and future of the very exciting World Junior A Challenge is at stake.

What do you think?

UPDATE: There's a video on youtube of the Russians post game reaction. Take a look.

Again, no matter what you think about the officiating there is no excuse for this behaviour. It's beyond immature and unsportsmanlike. That being said, the credibility of this tournament is on the line when we keep seeing these kind of incidents. How often does something like this happen at other international tournaments?


George said...

Typical Cnaadian logic-if you can't win by cheating then you will win by cheating and officiating.

Anonymous said...

I attended the game between Canada and Russia. The Russians deserved every penalty they got and there was a few calls that were even missed. If the International teams can not compete within the North American system and its rules than they should not attend. These tournaments are set up for player development and exposure for scouting purposes. The Scouts want to see how the International teams can compete within our smaller arenas and against our style of Hockey. If the players and teams were not interested in this then they would probably not be here.

Shawn said...

Again I don't think Hockey Canada is "cheating" at all. Cheating certainly isn't typical Canadian logic. Remember it was Canadian fans who expressed their concern with the officiating. We all want fair games.

Anonymous - which Canada/Russia game did you attend? This year's or last year's? The Russians come over here to play in other tournaments (World Championship last year that they won, World Junior Championship) and I can't think of many occasions where they had this kind of a parade to the penalty box. Certainly not in back to back years.

Anonymous said...

Typical Russian attitude. They have routinely cheated in the Olympics, used drugs and crooked judging to win medals and now when they are called for poor play, they cry and whine. Gutless and baby cries. They ignore contracts when it suits them and provide poor medical staffing. I can't say what I'd do to the goalie, but rest assured I'd make sure he never played hockey or any other sport unless it was as a member of a handicapped team.

Shawn said...

Slandering a whole country's population anonymously doesn't really earn much respect in my book.

Anonymous said...

russia sucks balls

Anonymous said...

Shawn I agree with your comments and anonymous needs to quit slagging all of Russia with his comments. This is 2008 and not 1972.....grow up!!!!

simon said...

As a fan of Canadian hockey, I must say that I am completely embarassed to be one. This incident just shows our tendency to cheat with officiating. When the officiating crew saw that our boys couldn't do it by themselves, they decided to land a helping hand by creating a Russian parade to the penalty box. And they turned a completely blind eye to gross misconduct that injured a Russian player. To add to the matter, Canada West team should have been penalized for unsportmanlike conduct when our boys poured water over the head of a team doctor that was tending to an injured player. Yes, it's time for all of us to admit it. This isn't the first time we have behaved in such matter. Let's go back to the original - the 1972 series. The four games on Canadian soil weren't even close to being fairly officiated. Yet, the Soviet team stayed away from whining - they were simply honored to compete. When our team went overseas, everything wasn't right from hotel room to transportation, to rink size, to officiating. We whined so much that the team threatened to forego the last game unless officials were changed. So before we call another nation a bunch of crybabies, let's first take a look at our long running history of whining. I never thought I'd recall the words of a Russian coach, but here it goes - 'The beauty of Canadian hockey is hidden beneath a primitive style of play with a tendency to cheat.' Well, it appears that Mr. Tarasov was right after all. We should be able to compete on level ice, otheriwse we can expect more goonery and obscene gestures.

Serge said...

What can you expect from teenagers who see complete lack of respect towards their team?
The answer is obvious - backfire.
What would you do when:
1. Your team plays most of the game shorthanded.
2. All team leaders listed at the official tournament brochure got 10 minute misconduct?
3. Team doctor get "water shower" from opposite team without any reaction from official and/or Team Canada apologies?
4. You see that the team jersey signed by players get sold in the lobby without your knowledge and (obviously) consent?
5. You get asked to pay for the team photos made on the ice?
6. You get robbed in the hotel and hear that "hotel is not responsible for what happened" and "nothing we can do about it".

Russian team couch said that they have been disappointed by entire (players and coaches) Team Canada behavior and how the tournament has been organized in general, and will think twice before coming here again. They got apologies from tournament organizers though.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a log in but I did post the first anonymous post. I watched the game between Canada West and Russia 2008. I stand by the officiating for this game and throughout the tournament. In fact the official for this game was actually getting scouted for the NHL. Although I did not see the supposed event where the Canadian players poured water on the team doctor? For reference the Canada West team took the majority of the penalties in the final game against the USA. After watching most games, I predicted that the USA team was the strongest and guess what, they won the tournament. Funny how that works even with the supposed cheating that you are accusing the Canadian teams of!! Remember that these are young kids and probably do not show the respect that you gain and earn as you get older. One of the common deficiencies I noticed for all teams was the inability to play short handed, they all seemed to draw secondary penalties (hooking, tripping, slashing, holding)when they were already short handed, leading to alot of 5 on 3's. Typical of young players still learning the game. The Hockey was excellent to watch and I hope the tournament continues. To Simon: Is Tarasov's comment not whining in itself?

Shawn said...

For the record I never said Canada was cheating. Some comments have said that, but I never said that. I just think the officiating was widely criticized last year and it looked like it was a problem again.