By Stephen Lee, January 30 2018 —
On Jan. 6, Sweden and Canada went head-to-head in the World Juniors Hockey Championship. The game displayed strong athleticism and passion — and extremely questionable sportsmanship. In the dying minutes of the third period, Canadian forward Tyler Steenbergen deflected a shot from the blueline to earn Canada the game-winning goal. However, the tournament ended sourly when Sweden’s captain Lias Andersson tossed his silver medal into the stands after receiving the accolade.
Some consider this a reflection of the young Swede’s dedication, such as Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. Nonetheless, this is unacceptable conduct on the world stage — or any stage, for that matter. Being upset is understandable. Andersson’s team played incredibly well but were outplayed by Canada goalie Carter Hart. They scored a short-handed goal in the second period — a task that even National Hockey League players struggle to achieve. But despite strong play and an emotional defeat, throwing a medal is unacceptable.
It’s disrespectful towards the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), who welcomed Andersson to play in their tournament. It’s disrespectful to Sweden’s coach, Tomas Monten, who awarded Andersson captaincy out of multiple candidates, including much-anticipated 2018 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin. Additionally, his actions were disrespectful to his teammates, who dazzled throughout the tournament, as well as the fans relentlessly cheering them on.
This was not Andersson’s first major loss. He also finished second in the U18 World Championships. Considering his previous defeat, this year’s defeat is even heavier, but that doesn’t excuse his conduct. The incident indicates a lack of maturity and self-awareness expected at higher levels. In any professional league, players lose championship titles more often than win them. There are 31 teams in the NHL. Only one can win the Stanley Cup each season. Many teams play fantastically in the regular season but don’t make the cut during the playoffs. Last season, the league-leading Washington Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins despite their dominance. Similarly, the Swedes were outstanding in the round robin, boasting the best record and the most points of any team, but fell flat in their final.
Though skill varies between levels of competition, there is a level of sophistication and dignity required to play at a high level. NHL athletes are distinguished by their professionalism, which involves accepting accolades with grace. Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid respectfully accepted the Hart Trophy last season despite faltering in the Western Conference semifinals. And Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky warmly accepted the Vezina Trophy after losing spectacularly to the Penguins in the 2017 playoffs. Professional players must handle loss and rejection without childish antics. They should respect the organizations they play in and represent them proudly alongside their teammates. This responsibility would be undermined if Andersson’s actions are left undisciplined.
Accepting defeat is understandably difficult for the Swedish team, especially after stellar qualifying play. They didn’t lose because of faulty calls by referees or poor performance. Team Canada simply played better. No aspect of the game merited Andersson’s behavior. To let this incident go unpunished devalues the Swedish players who performed their best throughout the tournament and the IIHF for allowing Andersson to participate. If he is not held accountable, Andersson will never come to fully appreciate the honour bestowed upon him when he puts on the Swedish jersey and enters the rink.