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.