From controversy often comes change, and witnessing the tossing of a Silver Medal into the stands after Sweden’s heart-breaking loss to Canada at the World Juniors may lead to a change in closing ceremonies at IIHF events.
I’m not saying it will definitely happen. After all, the “stable geniuses” at the IIHF think a championship should be decided after 70 minutes by a shootout. But hey…one can always hope.
Swedish captain Lias Andersson has taken a pile of heat from armchair hockey captains for tossing his “prize” into the stands within seconds of receiving it, and while it undoubtedly was a display of poor sportsmanship and it had never been done before, if one puts himself in his skates, he’s probably about the 400th player in WJC history who was tempted to do just that.
Here is a proud, patriotic teenager who, for his third-consecutive world championship, was presented with the loser’s medal only a few minutes after the final buzzer. He was the leader of his team as captain, and one who performed admirably throughout the tournament
Moments earlier Andersson and the Swedes were one shot away from realizing his dream of finally winning a Gold Medal after his two previous heartbreaks in both the U-17’s and U-18’s, but with less than two minutes remaining in the game Tyler Steenbergen pierced a lance through the Swedish captain’s armour by tipping in a point shot that ultimately led Canada to a 3-1 victory in Andersson’s final junior hockey game.
That’s right. Andersson, who is already an established regular in the SHL, is a “late birthday”, so even though he was drafted in the NHL last June, he will not be eligible to play in another U-20 competition.
So picture this…15 minutes before he was presented with an “award” for losing, Andersson had high hopes of finally winning a junior championship on a team he was asked to captain. The game looked at the very least to be heading for overtime and perhaps even a shootout, where undoubtedly his team would be favoured to win as Canada does not exactly have a great track record when championships versus the Swedes are decided (Peter Forsberg on Corey Hirsch is still etched in my memory) by a “field-goal kicking contest”.
Over the next 15 minutes, he would see Canada score the go-ahead goal and celebrate; Canada add an empty net goal… and celebrate; hear a final buzzer…where the Canadians would celebrate; stand on his own blueline for several minutes… while Canada would celebrate; and finally endure a non-Swedish national anthem where afterwards the Canadian players…you guessed it…would celebrate.
Following this painstaking ordeal, he was then asked to line up for his reward for losing the most important game of his young life; the final time he would ever play for his country at the junior level.
After having this vile medal hung on his neck followed by a perfunctory handshake and fake smile from some old fogey he didn’t know from a hole in the ground, all the emotion of the past 15 minutes boiled over, and Andersson lost it.
His fit of anger only lasted a couple of seconds. That’s how long it took to take off his medal and chuck it into the stands, but the deed was done, and as he cried on the ice and was consoled by teammates and coaches alike he would be trashed on social media by hundreds of thousands of hockey fans with no clue about how shattered he felt at that moment.
Max Pacioretty put it well when asked about it today. NHL players don’t get a medal for losing in the Stanley Cup finals.
Sure…give the kids silver medals as that is the tradition and it’s still a terrific accomplishment, but does it have to be on the ice a few minutes after the final buzzer?
Most medal presentations at the Olympics are not a few minutes after the competition has ended. Is it truly necessary to make the losers put on their medals soon after the final buzzer in front of the hockey world? Give them some time to get over their disappointment and present them the medal in the dressing room or after they’re dressed, but not before millions so that some irrelevant IIHF officials can get camera time passing out medals.
Do the losers of the Bronze Medal game have to go through such an arduous ritual after losing? No. So why should the second-place team? Were they not “two better” than the fourth-place team? So why be twice as humiliated? Maybe they should make the losers of the Bronze Medal game clean up the trash in the arena in their uniforms in the name of fairness.
Years ago Hockey Canada used to make their final cuts near Christmas time at 6 am with a “wakeup call”, and this was followed by hockey reporters gathered at the team’s hotel knocking on their hotel room doors to interview the stunned, disappointed kids directly after hearing the news. It was cruel and unusual punishment until it finally dawned on Hockey Canada executives that this wasn’t necessary, and, most importantly, that it wasn’t right.
I see a parallel between that and the ritual forlorn teenagers are subjected to with the Silver Medal presentation, and if it were up to me, I would change how it is done.
Will that happen? Probably not, but if it does…and as is often the case, just like a stop light being installed at a busy intersection after a fatal crash…something good can evolve from something bad, and the shunned one, Lias Andersson, will be the one who inspired the change.
Do we HAVE to see the losing team’s players get their Silver Medals or the IIHF officials congratulate them? Of course not.
So change it.