KAMLOOPS — In hindsight, I was maybe growing up too fast. I was 19 years old, and I was speaking in front of crowds of several hundred people on Sunday mornings, people who were very protective of their church podiums. For some reason, I thought I had something to say, and for some reason, they let me say it. It was a lot of pressure.
But it was just a drop in the bucket compared to the pressure facing kids like Connor Ingram playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Ingram would certainly admit he had a bad start to the semifinal game against Sweden Wednesday. He will feel a lot better that his performance didn't cost Canada the win.
Ingram was under an insanely strong microscope in that game — for a grown adult, let alone a teenager. Playing goal on Team Canada's world junior squad is like having a spotlight on your every action. Hearing the home crowd boo Ingram as he was pulled from the semifinal game is the perfect illustration. This doesn't even mention what Carter Hart faced when yesterday's gold medal game went to a shootout, an event that puts even more onus on the individual, rather than spreading it out to the whole team.
The hockey world is littered with Canadian goaltenders who couldn't handle that pressure and flamed out. And who could blame them? They were 18 or 19 years old, and an entire country was forcing them to shoulder the blame for the slightest mistake. It's difficult enough for teenagers like Ingram to carry the hopes of a hockey market the size of Kamloops, let alone the most hockey-mad nation in the world.
The World Junior tournament is not nearly as big an event in the rest of the hockey world as it is in Canada, and it's more than fair to say we Canadians have blown the tournament completely out of perspective. The pressure of playing in the national spotlight may prepare young players for life in the pros, but you can argue it's far more pressure than what they would feel as professionals. Many of these players may never be asked to represent their country again. Just because they answered that call doesn't mean they should be forced to forfeit the best parts of being teenagers.
The entire country should take a deep breath and remember, this is a tournament for 18 and 19 year old players. What were you doing when you were that age?