Just a post away… that is how close the Canadian World Junior team came to playing for the gold medal last night. One single shot just an inch to the left, and we may have seen a completely different outcome to this tournament. Hockey is in many ways a game of chance and a game of luck. Although you do everything in your power to win, when you put a bouncy rubber object on a hard ice surface, things are bound to happen that are out of your control, and sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way. In the case of our Canadian Juniors, that one bounce or that one shot may very well have been the difference between winning the gold and winning the bronze.
With the conclusion of a tournament of this length and magnitude comes a flurry of feelings and emotions. In my experience, whether you win or lose, the most prominent feeling is that of relief as the pressure to perform and to win is lifted off of your shoulders. Although the Canadians did not come away with the medal they were aiming for, I am certain that they are all feeling a tremendous amount of relief as this pressure has evaporated.
There is no doubt that they are all disappointed as well, but a great deal of credit must be given to the Canadian team, players and staff included, for responding the way they did to their devastating loss to the Russians. In dealing with this adversity, they demonstrated a tremendous amount of resiliency and character, and showed the world what Canadian hockey is all about. They may not have lived up to Canada’s golden expectations, but they are coming away from this tournament with a bronze medal that they worked very hard for and should be extremely proud of.
Now that the tournament has come to an end, these players can relate to the picture I painted in my first blog of what this experience would be like for them. They represented Canada on home soil, and experienced immense pressure, as they were expected to win gold, no matter what. They faced challenges, injuries, and encountered unexpected adversity while playing the most competitive and intense games up to this point in their hockey careers. They created memories that will last them the rest of their lives, and unique bonds with their teammates as they spent hours on the ice, in the dressing, at the hotel, and on the bus. What lies behind them is the biggest two weeks of their young hockey careers, a roller coaster and whirlwind of feelings as well as emotions that no one could have fully prepared themselves for unless they had been through that exact experience before. Some of these athletes will remember the disappointment of losing to Russia in the finals last year, and now have to add to that experience that same level of disappointment as they fell to the Russians yet again. It was no doubt draining mentally and physically, and was the biggest hockey challenge they had ever faced in their careers.
Not long from now, this entire experience will merely be a memory in their minds, just as the Olympics are now for me. I mentioned in my first blog that it was the most fulfilling experience of my life. It was an honour to win a gold medal on home soil, but when I look back on my Olympic experience, it was fulfilling for more reasons than just the medal we won, and was about so much more than that. It was the lessons I learned from the challenges we were faced with, and how I grew from that, both as a hockey player, and as a person. It was the friendships and bonds that were formed with teammates and staff, and the memories we created together. It was the opportunity to represent Canada playing the sport that unifies our country, and the pride I felt wearing the maple leaf in front of thousands and thousands of Canadian fans in a sea of red and white. It was about experiencing the love and adoration, and the respect and admiration of the entire country. I am sure the Canadian Junior team would agree that their journey, which began at the very first selection camp, was about much more than the medal they came away with as well. Regardless of the color of the medal, these players will take away much more than that from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
They did not win gold or silver, but they won a medal. They won bronze, and like I said, and I am sure all Canadians would agree, bronze still matters.
Author: Meaghan Mikkelson