“Bench him! Strip him of his captaincy! Send him home in disgrace!”
Those that deal in scathe on the social media apparatus and were howling for the head of Team Canada Captain Barrett Hayton after the 18-year-old neglected to remove his helmet for the playing of Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii when the Russian team trounced our top junior hockey players at the 2020 World Junior Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic are yelling a different tune these days.
This corner has to admit a slight lag on living and dieing with the fortunes of Canada’s best junior hockey players when they gather over Christmas and New Years to see where they might stack up that particular year against other hockey playing nations.
Something about covering both junior hockey teams in Prince Edward County and not having a Major Junior franchise in Belleville anymore is more than part of the partial disconnect. Not that I would have believed in such heresy in my late teens but there is such a thing as too much rink and too much puck watching.
But like any hockey fan, I try to mix in a Team Canada game or two between scoops of stuffing and left over turkey while the children dabble with their new found gadgets and visiting family members bivouac here and there and recall winters of old.
So when Hayton, a Peterborough, ON native found himself at the helm of Canada’s worst ever beating at the WJC’s- a 6-0 thrashing where Canada couldn’t do anything right and Russia could do no wrong- it was a recipe for the regrettable instance of not removing his headgear during the winning team’s postgame anthem that was correctly called out by the Russians and the hockey community at large.
But in this cancel culture era where so many voices are rooted in the hyperbole of the day and castigation is a developing art form, a great many Canadian hockey fans were quick to Twitter to single out Hayton and cry for his blood.
Mostly for the helmet faux pas but you can bet partly for the ‘disaster’ of the beating at the hands of Russia.
Hayton, showing far more poise in the aftermath than some ‘adults’ back home, accepted responsibility for his action through a statement issued with the help of Hockey Canada and went about rehabilitating his image in short order while also trying to lead a regrouping Canadian team.
Ultimately, it would be Canada advancing to the final game and Hayton scoring a game tying goal on Sunday as the Nats redeemed themselves in the eyes of a nation (as if making the final wasn’t good enough), capturing gold against the same Russian team that had outclassed them nine days prior.
Let’s remember Canada’s 4-3 victory over our ‘Forever Rival’ Russia at the 2020 World Juniors as another chapter in the legacy of this nation’s storied hockey history of but also as case study of the redemption of a teenaged captain who was thrust into the vicious social media spin cycle only to come out golden on the other side.
While we are here discussing hockey, let’s also use this space to echo the growing sentiment that our Under 18 Women’s National Team that plays for a world championship at the same time as the Men’s Junior squad is getting short shrift from our national broadcasters.
Remember, this is the national team our very own Jess Jones won gold with at the 2007 tournament which was the first such International Ice Hockey Federation-sanctioned tournament at that particular age bracket.
A dozen years later and with women’s hockey growing exponentially year-after-year, it’s disappointing that hockey fans would need to scramble and secure a choppy internet feed in order to see the best up-and-coming players that will soon fill out the ranks of the top NCAA teams and, hopefully, a professional league.
Here’s hoping the CBC, Sportsnet and TSN recognize the value of bringing great stories and games-regardless of the gender of the players- to the eyes of all hockey fans, especially young players who dream of being the next Jess Jones. Broadcasters need to right this wrong in time for 2021 and bring stories of our very best athletes to anyone who might wish to engage and enjoy this traditional rite of the holidays.