Type: sports cover story
For: Coquitlam Now, Echo sports
Written: January 2006 (grade 11)
I was riding the SkyTrain down to Commercial station when I looked up from my homework for a moment and saw a billboard with a striking message on it: "When one athlete climbs two steps, the whole country stands taller."
I must admit that the slogan was a good one, particularly in Canada, where our funding for elite athletes leaves something to be desired. When I see a Canadian advance past the preliminaries of any sport, I am filled with a sense of national pride. I can list more than a few athletes who have done wonders for this country's off-ice athletic reputation - Steve Nash, Daniel Igali, Perdita Felicien and Tyler Christopher, among others.
Three weeks ago, Canada had, yet again, another chance to stand taller, as from Boxing Day to Jan. 5, the IIHF World Junior Championship took place right here in Vancouver. Yes, I know that I'm returning to hockey, but honestly, in what other sport can Canada claim near domination?
I admit that heading into this year's competition, I was somewhat unconvinced about Canada's chances at defending its title, let alone medaling. But in all fairness, can you blame me? Even analysts such as those from the Hockey News were saying that not only were the Canadians underdogs to win the gold, they were underdogs to make the podium.
When you look at the team, it's easy to see why. Only one player of the 22 named to the final roster was on last year's team that dominated the competition in Grand Forks, and he didn't even play in the final against Russia because of an illness. Offensively, the team was lacking the speed and skill that were required to match up to the Russians and the Czechs.
Yet, as always, Canada's boys found a way to prevail. And in the minds of many, there was never really even a doubt. Playing on home ice, in front of a home crowd, in the country that calls itself the home of hockey, the so-called "underdogs" came together under coach Brent Sutter, who knew when he took the helm of the team that he had a daunting task in front of him. Yet, he was prepared for it, and took on the challenge with passion. And now he's a national icon. This team, as a whole, will go down in history as a national icon.
Before the tournament began, I was reading an article on the top five teams that have donned the Maple Leaf for Canada's junior team. The top-ranked team was the 2005 team, stacked with talents such as Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, a team that outscored the opposition 41-7. They were the gold-medal favourites, and they did not disappoint. As I recall that article, I can't help but feel that as talented and dominant as that team was, it has been replaced as the top Canadian junior team ever.
This year's team was definitely not the most-skilled team in the tournament. The players weren't the fastest, or the most experienced, or even the most hyped up. But what they lacked in skill, they replaced with determination. What they lacked in speed, they replaced with tenacity. What they lacked in experience, they replaced with a will to work. And when some doubted a medal, they replaced those doubts with the gold.
This was no Cinderella story. Even as a "weak" Canadian team, these juniors were still considered a very good team, if only because of their homeland, and the well-known fact that in Canada, we don't send crappy teams, ever. But when a team that's not expected to medal goes undefeated, allows only six goals against, and ends up with the gold, that's heart. That's passion.
At the end when the cameras zoomed in on the players with their arms around each other, singing our national anthem completely off-key, as a Canadian, I couldn't help but stand a bit taller.
Congratulations, juniors. You've done Canada proud.