Losing to Germany in Olympic men’s ice hockey is a nasty jolt to the Canadian system in any context, but that doesn’t mean the context doesn’t matter.
If the Canucks had lost to the Germans four years ago, or four years before that, it would have sent a shockwave through the country. The mob would’ve called for heads on spikes. Canadians from coast to coast would have felt confusion and revulsion in equal measure.
That’s not what’s happening in the aftermath of Canada’s 4-3 loss to Germany in the semifinals at PyeongChang. Canadians bemoaned the loss, but at the same time they easily divested themselves of it.
The beauty of this mix-and-match Canadian hockey team was that our connection to them was illusionary. If they won a gold – or maybe even a silver against an overwhelmingly talented Russian squad – they would have been a group of gritty overachievers that perfectly embodied the Canadian spirit. When they disappointed, suddenly they weren’t Canada’s real team, the best-of-the-best. They draped themselves in the flag, but the moment they stumbled they became instant pretenders.
This loss cannot really hurt because Canadian fans always have the option of believing a team equipped with NHL stars would have won it all in PyeongChang. There’s a not-insignificant chance that’s true. At the very least, it’s impossible to disprove.
In this country, we get seriously anxious when our supremacy on the ice comes into question, but that’s not what happened on Friday morning. The matchup wasn’t Team Canada against Team Germany, it was a team of Canadian athletes vs. Team Germany. Canada was still the favourite, Canada still had more talent, and we should still be surprised. But the difference between those two things is crucial.
When it’s all said and done, the reality is that the men’s hockey team at PyeongChang 2018 will not be remembered as a massive disappointment, because they are unlikely to be remembered at all. It was a group compiled of characters with whom the country had a passing familiarity, and now that they won’t come home triumphant, we’re going to see little incentive to learn more about them.
Right now most Canadians would struggle to name five players on the team, in ten years they might not be able to name one. Maybe we’ll recall Derek Roy being Canada’s most dangerous skater or Gilbert Brule’s ugly hit, but that’s far from a given.
That’s not because we don’t have the capacity to remember low moments. Losing in the quarterfinals in 2006 is an embarrassment that Canada’s doesn’t dwell on, but certainly doesn’t forget either. That was a team with Martin Brodeur in net, Joe Sakic wearing the “C”, and Chris Pronger at the height of his powers. It was littered with names like Joe Thornton, Rob Blake and Martin St. Louis.
When that team didn’t even play for a medal, that was jarring. Canada was left to wonder if they really were the world’s hockey superpower. It spawned a potent combination of doubt and anger that made for a mini national crisis.
There is no crisis today. Although the Canadians lost, Team Canada is still the best team in the world. As long as no one can definitively prove that statement wrong, this country’s psyche is going to be just fine.
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