Even though the IIHF World Junior Championship has come and gone, the disappointment of a fourth place finish is still fresh for Ryan McGill, who served as an assistant coach to Team Canada.
The Kootenay Ice bench boss has rejoined his club team, but he hasn’t stopped thinking about what could have been at the world’s premier international U20 tournament, hosted by Sweden over the Christmas break.
“Really what it boils down to is the disappointment of being a flat hockey team against the Finns in the semifinal game and we’re still analyzing why that is and I don’t know the answers will come out yet,” said McGill.
“I think that’s going to take some time, some reflection and obviously reflection by coaches, reflection by Hockey Canada management and officials, and hopefully we can come up with some answers on how to not let that happen.”
The Canadians lost their third straight semifinal game at the tournament in a 5-1 loss to Team Finland, which went on to capture the gold medal. Team Canada then drew the Russians for the bronze-medal match, losing 2-1 to finish fourth for the second straight year.
Canada finished on top of their group standings after round robin play, with only one 5-4 shootout loss to the Czech Republic after the tournament began on Boxing Day.
Heading into the elimination games, Canada downed the Swiss 4-1 before going up against the eventual champions in Team Finland, which scored three times in the second period on their way to a 5-1 win.
“I thought we did get better every day in a lot of areas, and one area that we’re obviously disappointed in, is that we fell short, but we didn’t fall short because of lack of execution—we fell short for whatever reason that we were flat, and we gave up a couple untimely goals,” said McGill.
“In a tournament like that, it’s so important that you have that narrow focus shift to shift, and I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really isn’t, because you don’t have time to recover like a seven-game series, so you have to be really sharp in your narrow focus.”
After a five-year run of winning gold, Team Canada has two silvers, a bronze, and a pair of fourth place finishes. For the last four years, a different country has won the tournament, a sign of the parity between all the teams—especially the European squads.
“They’ve caught up,” noted McGill. “Canada was put on a pedestal for many years—rightfully so—and a lot of these European teams are now modelling themselves after the Canadian way.
“I think, now, that there’s so much parity in the world with teams, that Canada doesn’t have the upper hand on all these countries anymore. We’re all on a level playing field.”
Team Canada has 11 players eligible for next year’s roster, however, Kootenay Ice captain Sam Reinhart and Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad are top-rated prospects that could be playing in the NHL, which would make their return questionable.
Canada is home to the tournament next year as Montreal and Toronto will share hosting duties.