The 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship is just a few days old, but it’s already obvious that physicality will not win this tournament.
Through Canada’s first two games, wins over Germany and Slovakia, it became clear that playing physical play does not bode well for success.
Anthony Camara, who’s playing a checking role for Team Canada, laid out Slovakia’s Patrik Luza with a clean hit that had Luza taken off on a stretcher. Nothing’s wrong with the hit, because it’s just hard, physical hockey. It’s the style Camara’s used to playing with in the Ontario Hockey League.
That doesn’t work in international play.
Frankly, Luza should have kept his head up. Gathering the puck in the corner with your head down, and turning with it, when one should know who’s on the ice, is simply asking for trouble.
Was it necessary? No, probably not. Can one blame Camara for seeing a turnover opportunity and taking it? Absolutely not. The Barrie Colts forward should be taking that gift every time. It’s not his responsibility to ensure Luza has his head up. This is a high level of hockey, and it was probably just an honest mistake by the Slovak.
Camara can’t be held at fault for an injury when there was no head contact, and the victim chose to put himself in a vulnerable position. Next time, Luza will have his head up. Guaranteed.
The above hit by J.C. Lipon is an example of where the physicality line has to be drawn. Lipon hits Slovakia’s Tomas Mikus, makes head contact, and is subsequently given a misconduct. Later on, it’s announced he is given a one-game suspension.
By raising his arms at Mikus, Lipon makes accidental contact with the head. No real intent to injure, but a dangerous situation is created.
“In my eyes, the two hits were dirty,” Mikus said after the game. “I didn’t see the [Camara] one, so I can’t comment on it, but there was…blood in the face so not clean. Just dirty.”
Boone Jenner’s charge resulted in a three-game suspension. It’s the way Jenner is used to playing with the Oshawa Generals, and he’s known as an aggressive leader. It’s one of the main reasons he’s on this team. However, he needed to know when to hold back.
Jenner took a run at Jesper Pettersson not because he had to, not because he needed to, but because that’s what he would normally do. Adrenaline’s pumping, Jenner wants to make an impact, and this is what happens.
Pettersson is now out for the tournament. Much like last December, when Jenner knocked out Finland’s Olli Maatta, Jenner made himself known as a physical threat.
The second time around, it doesn’t fly. An injury occurred, it was a charge, and Jenner’s a repeat offender. All were immediate signs of suspension.
Now that there have been three separate incidents involving three different Canadians, the line between being aggressive and being physical should be perfectly clear.
“There was a lot of frustration, a lot of questions on our bench as to what is acceptable and what isn’t,” Team Canada head coach Steve Spott said after the Slovakia game. “The challenge for us is to adjust to the standard that’s here.”
This tournament will not be won by the team with the last man standing. It will be won by the group that is best able to remain disciplined while utilizing skill.
Spott knows that, and he hopes the message has been sent to his players.
Victory in this tournament will not be achieved through bone-crushing checks. A team that can find the balance between aggressiveness and discipline will find themselves in a successful position.
David O’Connor is a managing editor with the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. His writing has been on the Los Angeles Times’ website, among other places. O’Connor also does some scouting work for the local Junior B hockey club. Please feel free to contact him at email@example.com.