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?