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"TSN Overkill Spoils Junior Hockey Tourney"


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By JACK TODD, The Gazette

MONTREAL – Now that the collective national delirium known as the World Junior Hockey Tournament is over, perhaps we can all take a deep breath, pay the Christmas bills, take our Team Canada jerseys to the cleaners and prepare for the collective national trauma known as the Olympic men's hockey tournament.

A little perspective, if you please. When I started writing sports columns for this newspaper back in 1994, I recall the world junior tournament as a nice little shindig for teenage hockey players.

Canadians would tune in somewhere between the leftover Christmas turkey and the New Year's Day hangover, applaud politely if our boys won and cluck our tongues a little if they lost.

That was then. This is now. And I am trying very hard to understand what has happened in the interim. Much of it, I'm afraid, has to do with TSN and the way the network has taken a stranglehold on the national hockey agenda, with coverage so hysterical it makes Don Cherry look calm, cool and collected.

There was a time when Canada's televised hockey coverage was synonymous with class: TSN has turned class to crass.

Obviously, this is Canada and it's hockey. My 4-year-old son was only 15 months old when his consciousness zoomed in on the national obsession. I was watching the junior tourney while he pushed a soccer ball up and down the stairs. Then they started playing O Canada. He paused on the steps, listened for a moment, then shouted "hockey!"

So it's in the genes. But it's also on the airwaves.

Our biggest national sports network has clearly decided that you can never get to much of a good thing. A good thing in this country means hockey, so the network is going to milk every non-event from the trade deadline to the draft to the naming of the national Olympic team, as though Team Canada was playing the final game of the Summit Series on a daily basis.

Over the top doesn't even begin to cover it. Over the moon is more like it. When you have a camera crew following coaches around as they wake sleepy junior players to tell them they've made the national team, you have lost all perspective.

After watching some of TSN's extreme overkill coverage of the world junior championship end with all those monster egos trying to explain why Team Canada had failed to come through with the network's much-ballyhooed Fix for Six, I turned to the Boston Globe on Wednesday morning to see how the Americans covered it.

Love or hate the Bruins, I don't think that anyone in this city would argue that Boston isn't a hockey town. Yet on the front page of the Internet version of the Globe, there was not a word to be found about the American juniors and their scintillating overtime victory over Canada Tuesday night.

I scanned all the stories that rated a line or two on the front page in vain: not a word.

I clicked on hockey and found it at last, under stories about Alex Burrows racking up a hat trick for Vancouver and Saku Koivu scoring his 200th goal for Anaheim: "U.S. beats Canada for junior hockey championship." Below was the Associated Press game story.

And that was it. No columns, no breast-beating, no in-depth pieces on the grandmother of John Carlson, who scored the overtime winner for the U.S. to prevent Canada from running its world junior record to six straight titles.

Even playing on home ice for the second straight year and the third time in the past five years, Canada didn't get it done. A national disaster? When kids don't have enough to eat, that's a disaster. When people lose their homes, that's a disaster.

A hockey silver medal? That's just fine. If some of us believe second place is the first loser, then blame TSN for attempting to hype its ratings on the backs of these kids by creating unrealistic expectations.

Much as the network wants you to believe otherwise, it's still just a teenage hockey tournament.

The junior tourney is not the second coming of the Summit Series. It's not the Olympics.

It is not, to be honest, even a "world" tournament. It's more like the junior Canada Cup, with Canada, the U.S. and the handful of north European countries who take part competing for an honour that is won by Canada most of the time.

It is a matter of enormous pride here that Team Canada had won this tournament five straight years. But any time you have such dominance by one nation, the tournament itself has to be called into question. You won't see any nation, not even Brazil, win the soccer World Cup five times in a row.

Apart from Canada and the U.S., of the handful of European nations who play the sport seriously, only two (Sweden and Russia) can be considered serious gold-medal contenders year in and year out, and the Russians are a shadow of the old Soviet Union teams.

This is not to take anything away from our kids, who play well and play hard. It's just that the whole thing needs to be put into perspective - which is something you will never get from TSN. Many of the games in this tournament (including this year's bronze-medal tussle between Sweden and Switzerland) are a complete farce.

The world juniors, in short, have become a Canada-only fixation, nourished by one network in its relentless pursuit of ratings, with Canadian players hyped well beyond their age and ability.

When Canada can make it to the gold-medal game without having to face either Sweden or Russia even once, it's a joke. Don't blame the kids who compete: blame the Canadian media for its absurd inflation of what is, essentially, a cozy little tournament for teenagers.

If this is what TSN does to the world juniors, I shudder to think what coverage of the Olympic men's hockey tournament next month will be like. Enough to make you wish you were on a beach in Cuba, where you can't even get game results on the web.

Sigh. Dick and Danny - where are you when we need you?

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Whatever. I really don't care, but this is simply a pompous opinion piece. If Jack Todd doesn't like the tournament, then report on something else. So what if it didn't make headlines in Boston (or anywhere else in the US). The US has many, many other passtimes that come ahead of Canada's favourite one.

If the biggest bone of contention is the fact that TSN go a little over-the-top with their commentary then simply watch with no sound, or play-by-play on the radio with somebody else doing the calls.

Whine, whine, whine ...

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To me it's not about just turning down your TV. There is a snowball here that is getting bigger and bigger and more out of control and pretty fucking soon it's gonna get to the bottom of the hill and destroy everything in it's path. This tourney NEEDS to get back to it's roots and out of the hands of corporate fuckfaces.

I mean, a new cheers forchristsakes??? A corporate fucking Pepsi cheer? Lame beyond words.

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U.S. Junior Team: Hail to the champs who did it well in Saskatoon. Memo to the Canadian Junior Team: Congrats to you on an outstanding tournament. And if any hockey-centric citizen of Canada wants to know why you didn't bring home gold, please tell him to get a life. And pass it on. The over-hyped tournament made for the cable networks and sold ad nauseam in Canada has become a farce to me. There are only three or four teams with a snowball's chance of winning but the pressure for the Canadian kids to win has become ridiculous. Talk about headshots! The disappointment these kids are feeling because of the entitled expectations of Canadian hockey fans is as brutal as any elbow.

How about some perspective, people?

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