At the conclusion of the 2018 World Junior Championships, the biggest story spreading around the web wasn’t Canada’s first gold medal since 2015. It was Sweden’s captain Lias Andersson, frustrated in defeat, throwing his silver medal into the crowd at KeyBank Center.
Andersson’s moment of exasperation became the talking point Friday night instead of pointing out what a fun, thrilling tournament this had been. Suddenly the hockey community was having a debate about sportsmanship, competitiveness, and appropriate displays of emotion as a top athlete.
Except rather than a chance to excoriate Andersson, the moment should’ve been a reminder to fans of what separates the World Juniors from, say, the NHL. It’s not a tournament of experienced, well-coached veterans who have been here, done that. It’s a tournament full of teenagers, many playing thousands of miles from their homes, representing their countries on one of the biggest stages possible. It’s a lot of young people cooped up in an emotional situation.
Even if we can all agree players shouldn’t throw their medals into crowds after winning them, it’s not difficult to see why Andersson was so upset. Consider that this was his last chance to play at a World Juniors. Consider that he had lost gold medal games at previous international competitions, and might not get another chance if the NHL doesn’t return to the Olympics.
And then consider that, a day after routing Team USA to make the final, his team laid a total dud against Canada with a championship on the line. What’s the appropriate reaction for a 19-year-old to that situation?
Here’s what Andersson said after getting his medal back from the crowd:
Full quote from Andersson on why he tossed his medal to the crowd:— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) January 6, 2018
“There was one guy in the stands who wanted it more than me so I decided to give it to him and I think he deserved it.”
The one thing you can’t deny here is that Andersson clearly cares. That’s the reaction of someone who is deeply passionate about what they do and deeply passionate about winning. Losing his cool a bit might’ve rankled some people, but there were probably just as many hockey men at home thinking, “That’s the kind of bite our team needs!” His competitiveness got the best of him for a second, but that might be better than shrugging in defeat.
And while we like to hold athletes to high standards of professionalism — well, again, this wasn’t a professional tournament — it was an amateur U-20 tournament for the best teenagers in the world. Some of those guys might still be learning to master their emotions. A little immaturity from a 19-year-old seems par for the course.
It can be easy to forget for a lot of Americans watching at home what a big deal this tournament is. It can also be easy to forget that many of these players would still be in high school if they were living normal lives given their remarkable displays of talent on the ice.
If anything, what happened should be considered a teaching moment, an opportunity for Andersson to take a step back and reflect on how he controls himself on the ice. Just because these are the best young hockey players in the world doesn’t mean they’re immune to the realities of being young people in general. Sometimes, that means doing things you might regret, often in the most emotional moments.