The World Juniors: From Start to Finnish

Get ready for a tournament rehash, top to bottom!  Plus: I fix the disparity of international sports once and for all.

As Canada raised the World Junior Championship trophy and put their gold medals around their necks for the first time in seven years, I was happy I watched this team in the tournament from start to finish.  The team was one of the deepest teams Canada has put out in recent years, featuring multiple top prospects and few current NHLers.  The main draws on the team included presumptive number 1 pick Connor McDavid and son of former NHL goon Max Domi.  Neither player disappointed as Domi won the top forward of the tourney and McDavid went nuts and scored key goals and racked up points with reckless abandon.

Among the subplots:

Canada facing virtually no challenge until the final – Even when potential number one picks McDavid and the US’s Jack Eichel went head to head, there did not seem to be a lot of energy or intensity.  Canada was clearly the best team in the tournament and they had the easiest road to the finals in recent memory.  From game one where they won by a full touchdown, all the way through the semifinal where they tuned up Slovakia 5-1, no game ever seemed in doubt at any point. Finland was an intense game but I never felt like it was in doubt at any point.  Canada was simply the best team in the tournament and there was no one who could prove otherwise.  Even in the final they were up 5-1 at one point and seemed to be on cruise control.

How is Domi not even invited to the “Arizona” Coyotes camp? – Domi was one of the best players in the tournament, hands down.  He played with energy and passion and his skills were very evident.  How did a horrible team (and I watched them lose 7-1 to Vancouver) not even give this guy a chance?  Maybe he needs to get a bit bigger, but he is obviously a talented player who can contribute to a pro team right now.

Canada has a lot of talent, and some big boys – Physically Canada looked like men among boys.  From Nurse through McDavid they were a big, big team who pushed everyone else around.  Part of the victory is skill, the other element this year was raw power and Canada dominated the tournament.

McDavid or Eichel? – The much hyped showdown between these two was sort of blah, and neither really separated himself (over the course of the tournament it seems McDavid grabbed the edge).  McDavid came into the tournament under an enormous amount of pressure after breaking his hand in a silly fight and everyone seemed to be waiting for him to prove himself.  He did?  I still do not know how I feel about McDavid; he was not the best player on team Canada, and he may not have been the best player on his line.  Most of his goals were gritty and tough but overall he kind of vibes a big Phil Kessel in style of play.

Canada won! – Explanation not necessary.

Russia fought hard – The game was seriously in doubt for the Canadians right up to the final seconds and much is due to Russia’s grit and skill.  They can score in a hurry and they proved it.  Also: their defensemen who blocked Canada’s open goal would have been a huge hero had they tied the game.  Great effort.

Now: how do you fix international sports?  The good teams have to play a series of semi meaningless games against countries who may have learned the sport the previous week (see Dream Team vs. Angola etc).  How do we fight through this disparity?  How do we even the playing field a little bit?  How do we make those opening round games more interesting and ensure full effort from even the best players?  The answer is simple: take the spread, say Angola is -25 points to the USA, and give the USA a score of -25 to start the game.  They are giving 25 points right off the bat to make up.  How crazy is that?  What if they were 40 point favorites?  How intense would that be as they furiously had to catch up?  Or hockey where a goalie can get hot and Team Canada is starting at -3 or -4 and need to score in the last few seconds to catch up.  Now, before you throw your computer out the window I am not proposing that this system continue through the knockout round, but it would definitely spice up the first few “warmup” games and give us more chances to see the best players in the world, actually play their best.

Because, really, at the end of the day is that not the point of international competition?  Michael Phelps never gets to take it easy, so why should Kevin Durant or Sidney Crosby?  Maybe they will have adopted my system by the time Finland in 2016 rolls around and as Canada defends the gold medal (or maybe, most likely, not).