The annual World Juniors hockey tournament is on, and I have to admit that while it’s always good to see Canada put forth a strong showing, their game results so far don’t sit terribly well with me.

8-1 and 15-0 aren’t hockey games — they’re bloodbaths — and under normal playing circumstances it’s unlikely the guys would run the scores up so much. It’s one of those unwritten rules of the game that when things are obviously very uneven, after a point you just let up.

The way the rules of the tournament go, however, total goals could be an important consideration in the event of a tie, so wracking up the points matters. But you can’t help but feel bad for the kids on the losing end of those scores, like the Kazakh kids who’ve so far lost 9-0 and 15-0.

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and couldn’t help but think about the players on Canada’s team and on some of the other teams.

Even without taking theories of opportunity like Gladwell’s into account, the Canadian (and US) players have a helluva lot of advantages over many of the other players. Some of the Kazakh kids look positively tiny — I recall one of the announcers commenting that a Kazakh player was only 128lbs! The lightest Canadian player is 175lbs. The heaviest Canadian player is 216lbs. That’s not just a weight disparity; in a physical game, that’s dangerous. I don’t care how fast you are.

Beyond sheer physical size, the Canadian kids have likely had all kinds of other advantages to get where they are — money, coaching, ice time, etc. And most of them are on track for lucrative NHL careers. A few of the kids from outside of North America could probably claim similar advantages, and goodness knows there are plenty of Slavic and Scandinavian names in the NHL, but a comparable percentage at this level? I doubt it.

I realize inequality exists in sports, just like anywhere else. But there are ways we can manage around it and still have good competition with strong teams and good match-ups. After all, a close game is much more exciting than a blow-out any day. So maybe Canada doesn’t play Latvia or Kazakhstan, but they play each other, and we get games with better matched teams, tougher competition, and lower overall scores.

These kids are the best in the world, and the future stars of the game, and certainly there is some damned good hockey to be seen in these tournaments. (Yeah, it doesn’t hurt that Canada wins its share of gold medals.)

But as much as hockey is Canada’s game, I gotta say that seeing dejected faces of kids who’ve just played their hearts out, and scoreboards displaying inflated, lopsided scores feels pretty un-Canadian to me.

3 Comments on Sporting

  1. I'm kind of torn on this. I think that the Kazakh players are probably way out of their league, but the reality is that they're participating in a tournament that features the very elite players. Playing down to them is disrespectful in its own way.

    One possible solution to the astronomical disparity in goals is to build a cap into the rules and call the game when some difference in score is achieved (10 points or something) but at the same time there's always a chance (however slim) that the losing team can pull it together and to end the game before regulation time is up would be even more embarrassing.

    The Kazakh players got their butts kicked, but they did so with aplomb and the Canadian players played straight-forward honest hockey. They didn't showboat, they didn't take a nap. They treated Kazakhstan like a legitimate threat which is the only fair way to face any opponent.

    Hockey isn't Kazakhstan's sport, yet. But what we've seen through participation in tournies like this one is the building of the minor hockey system that is critical to playing the game at the top level. I don't know because I don't follow them, but I bet the Kazakh soccer or cricket teams would dominate their Canadian counterparts.

  2. Yes it was hard to watch, but I'm not sure it would have been better sportsmanship to noticeably ease up either. I like your idea of matching up the teams better. But maybe some of the weaker teams want the chance to prove they can play at this level. Maybe even scoring one or two goals would be a victory for them against a team like Canada. Should they not get the chance to try?

  3. Yes it was hard to watch, but I'm not sure it would have been better sportsmanship to noticeably ease up either. I like your idea of matching up the teams better. But maybe some of the weaker teams want the chance to prove they can play at this level. Maybe even scoring one or two goals would be a victory for them against a team like Canada. Should they not get the chance to try?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *