Germany is not exactly a power in world hockey, silver medal at the weird 2018 Olympics aside. At the World Junior Championships, the Germans have never medaled, nor even managed better than a fifth-place finish — as West Germany, and as host of the tournament — in 1981. Germany hasn’t been better than ninth place at the World Juniors since 1996, an eighth-place finish.
The tournament has changed a bit since 1996, when Marco Sturm and his teammates survived the relegation round, which was staged at the New England Sports Center, a really lovely-looking place off the junction of Interstates 290 and 495 in Marlborough, Mass., whose arcade includes the Fast and Furious game and Cruis’n Blast. Those games rule.
Let’s just say you can’t rent skates for $3.75 and get on the ice for $5 (kids 12-and-under, $3) at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers and site of this year’s bubbled-up World Juniors.
Except, within that bubble, the Germans who weren’t even alive in 1996 are dealing with COVID-19. Eight players tested positive for coronavirus in mid-December, and nine players were unavailable for Germany’s first two games of the tournament… against the last two world junior champions: Finland and host Canada.
And fair play to the Germans, on Christmas against the Finns, they battled mightily, with No. 3 NHL draft pick Tim Stutzle notching a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss. Granted, Finland probably let up a bit after going up 3-0, and after Stutzle’s goal made it 3-2 midway through the second period, it only took Finland 3:16 (Minä vain tuhosin perseesi) to restore its three-goal lead. But still.
So, on Saturday, the German team’s reward, less than 22 hours after keeping a game close in which they were outshot 50-22 and stayed in striking distance only thanks to Amo Tieffensee’s 45 saves… yes, they got to face a well-rested Canadian team playing its first game of the tournament… on… home… ice.
The shots were 44-15. Tieffense started, somewhat indefensibly, and gave up four goals on 11 of those Canadian shots. The decision to start Tieffense looks a little more defensible given what happened next, 12 goals on 33 shots against Jonas Gahr.
The only player on Team Canada who didn’t get a point was Braden Schneider, and that was because he got a game misconduct 8:40 into the first period for a high hit on Jan-Luca Schumacher.
Why did Schumacher stay in the game? Who the hell knows.
This game happening at all makes sense only if you think of the prominence of the World Juniors on Canada’s sports landscape, and, as a result, the amount of money TSN is willing to pay the IIHF for broadcast rights to the tournament.
Maybe instead of this, instead of having a virus-riddled minnow of international hockey eat shit for two and a half hours in front of everybody, the result that was assured of happening when they ran themselves ragged the night before… maybe they could have adjusted the schedule? This isn’t the NHL. It’s a tournament with teenagers, with a wide disparity of skill level, and how often have any of these German kids even played games on back-to-back nights, let alone games of this magnitude, on a whole other continent from where they live? There’s a point where going forward with the game becomes a dangerous proposition, and the IIHF blew right past it to keep their TV partners happy.
Couldn’t they have just shown the 1972 Summit Series again? It would’ve satisfied all the jingoistic middle-aged Canadians who are the only people that could possibly draw enjoyment from Canadian teenagers in 2020 demolishing a bunch of exhausted Germans who just got out of quarantine.
At least now Germany gets a day off before having to play Slovakia.