Cut day: The shame of a nation

Today Hockey Canada announced the final 22-man roster for its World Junior Championship team in an annual tradition known as cut day, in which the team rids itself of all players who exhibit literacy above a third-grade level.

Now, we have this same day here in the U.S., of course, but it’s not treated like a big deal because we in this, The Greatest Country In The History of the World, have a little bit of something no Canadian has ever been born with: respect and decorum.

This is, to be sure, a hard day for all players who aspire to play the game at an elite level: they are essentially being told that they aren’t one of the 22 best players in their country —and, given that this is Canada we’re talking about, and there are about 195 other countries right now, that means they’re not in the world’s top 4,290 players — and then are asked to go face a literal army of reporters all ready to grill them about their horrible failure as human beings.

Okay, that sounds harsh, but it’s true to an extent. In Canada, if you’re a hockey player, your quality as a person (especially if you’re eligible for the U20 squad) only goes as far as your ability to make the team. Don’t make the cut? Prepare to have six dozen microphones shoved in your face to dissect exactly how you feel about it from glaring reporters, all of whom firmly believe that you have shamed yourself, your family and your nation.

“Soarry kid,” they all seem to say as a hivemind, “but it’s back to Moosefart, Manitoba, for you. And frankly it’s better than you deserve, eh? You make us sick.”

Hockey Canada doesn’t announce these cuts in a press conference format, either, so the ghoulish weirdos at TSN, Rogers SportsNet and CBC all camp out in the lobby of a hotel and surround every kid that got 86′d the second he steps off the elevator. And let’s be honest, if the U.S. were to fetishize anything the way Canadians do their World Junior team, you’d have nothing but a series of snooty canucks looking down their noses and saying, “This is why everyone hates America.”

It’s a ghastly practice by a country that we allow to share a border with us, and one that no one seems to have any particular problem with. But perhaps worse than the media’s handling of the situation which, again, is ghastly, is how Hockey Canada uses this day as a way to advance a more nefarious agenda.

Phil Di Giuseppe was among today’s cuts, which is notable in that he was one of just two camp invitees currently playing NCAA hockey here in the States (he for the Michigan Wolverines and the other, Jaden Schwartz, for Colorado College). When he went, everyone made it out to be one of those “He was so close, but he’ll be back next year,” scenarios, leaving unspoken the implicit caveat that the being back next year is contingent upon his leaving the NCAA system for the CHL. It’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last that Hockey Canada has ALLEGEDLY stooped this low, asking an NCAA player to forego his college education (and go back his agreement with the school giving him a scholarship). They MAY have done it with Jamie Oleksiak, who despite being an unbelievable player for Northeastern University last year, didn’t get a sniff from Hockey Canada until he jumped to the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. And they MIGHT have done it with Louis LeBlanc, who quit after a year at Harvard (HARVARD!) to play for the Montreal Juniors.

Shockingly (see also: not shockingly), both players made Canada’s team the year after getting cut and — ahem — choosing to focus more on their hockey development than their academic pursuits. Schwartz, luckily for him, was as slam-dunk a candidate to make this team as currently exists, and so lean on him though Hockey Canada COULD HAVE, they really didn’t have that kind of leverage.

And it should be noted here that USA Hockey would never stoop to this type of base gamesmanship in the war between college hockey and major juniors: its preliminary roster (you’ll notice it’s not down to 22 players yet, since NCAA student-athletes are currently taking finals, a thing CHL players consider a laughable afterthought) has a healthy mix of both CHL and NCAA players. That’s because USA Hockey isn’t about to politicize the lives and potential careers of 30-something young men for the sake of a tournament it’s going to win easily.

That’s class. Hockey Canada wouldn’t know anything about class anyway, and neither would its numerous CHL players.

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