COLUMN: We need a world junior hockey reality check 

How pathetic does your life have to be to get this worked up over a junior hockey game, international or otherwise? 

Team Canada jerseys hang in the Edmonton Oilers' Hall of Fame room at Rogers Place during a press conference to announce that the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship will be held in Edmonton and Red Deer, in Edmonton Thursday Dec. 6, 2018. Photo by David Bloom

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I have covered sports for most of my near 17 years in journalism. Sports are a passion of mine, I love what they represent and how they can build people and communities.

But there has always been an element or faction that has flat out disgusted me.

It’s that portion of the population that is so obsessed with sports that there is no realm outside that world for them, where every game is life and death whether it be the Olympics, the pros or grassroots. You’ll recognize this lot quite easily at local arenas or soccer pitches as those spending the entire length of a game berating some 14-year-old official. Each step up the ladder their actions get worse and worse, from stalking athletes online or confronting them in public, often while out with their families.

Following the Team Canada loss to Finland in the quarter-finals of the world junior hockey championships this past week, this group of cowards showed up yet again, harassing members of the team with an ugly onslaught of online vitriol. Captain Maxime Comtois was at the centre of much of the storm after he was stopped on a penalty shot in overtime that would have sent Canada to the semifinals. One of the worst comments was one Instagram user who messaged him, hoping he got HIV and killed himself.

How pathetic does your life have to be to get this worked up over a junior hockey game, international or otherwise?

To be clear, this is a group of kids, 19 years old and younger. They owe you nothing but whatever they do on the ice. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they will lose.

In some respect we are all a little bit guilty for the hero status many of these kids — and really, that is what they still are — garner. We have spent the last 30-plus years gathering around the TV or at bars or parties, sometimes at all hours of the night, playing hooky from school or work to watch them play against a bunch of other kids from the other side of the world. Even younger kids grow up watching them every Boxing Day into the new year, worshipping them, wanting to be them. Even if they have not heard of 95 per cent of the roster prior to the start of the tournament and there is big chance they will never hear of most of them again.

It is somehow tradition now in the vacuum of meaningless sports over the holidays.

For a portion of these players, the tournament will represent the pinnacle of what they achieve in their hockey playing career. A select few will move on to professional careers, even fewer will have meaningful pro careers.

For these players, however, we have decided to heap an insurmountable amount of pressure and expectations on their shoulders. Win or don’t come home.

Maybe it is our mentality as the imaginary guardian nation of all things hockey, and an embarrassed eagerness to wrap ourselves in the flag whenever skates and pucks meet ice in an international setting.

There is a definite lack of reality in the entire mix.

It is OK to be disappointed by missing the podium, especially on home ice.

In the end, however, it is just a game. Go home, have a cold one. Sleep it off and turn your attention to the misery of following whatever Canadian hockey franchise you follow.

Most of us have the formula figured out.

Unfortunately, there is not a manual that exists for the players dealing with missing those expectations. Some get stronger because of it, others take a long while to come out the other side.

I give full credit to those like Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby who have come out with public support for these players.

I hope the likes of Comtois are able to focus more on those comments than the insults from faceless and nameless keyboard warriors.

Young or old, these losers have more growing up to do than anyone who actually had anything to do with the tournament.

 

Jaldrich@postmedia.com

 

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