January 3, 2019 6:23 pm
Updated: January 7, 2019 12:52 am

World Juniors 2019: Canada’s loss to Finland leads to disappointment, social media backlash

WATCH: Canada's World Juniors loss sparks cyber bullying controversy


Team Canada made history at the 2019 IIHF World Juniors, but not in the way it wanted.

Their stunning 2-1 quarter-final loss to Finland meant Canada will not play for a world junior medal for only the second time in 21 years and the first time ever on Canadian soil.

As Finland’s Toni Utunen celebrated the overtime winner with teammates, Canadian goaltender Michael DiPietro fell to the ice in despair.

WATCH: Team Canada captain faces hate on social media

The disappointment was also felt by local businesses that were hoping to see Canadian fans flood the downtown core for a semifinal and gold medal game.

Heading into the tournament, Hockey Canada noted that regional economic impact studies of the 2015 World Juniors estimated the financial spin-off for host communities exceeded $80 million.

WATCH: Heartbreak as Team Canada falls to the Finns

Jeff Lockwood, assistant general manager of The Pint, said crowds at his bar located blocks from Rogers Arena have been “amazing” throughout the tournament. He said he anticipates good crowds for the semifinals and gold medal game, but nothing like the numbers he would expect if Canada were still in the tournament.

“It is disappointing,” he said. “The atmosphere won’t quite be the same, but people are still going to come because people love hockey.”

Canada’s Maxime Comtois rests his head on his glove after losing to Finland during overtime quarter-final IIHF world junior hockey championship action in Vancouver on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

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Kingsley Bailey of Vancouver Ticket notes Canada was never a shoo-in to win gold and tickets sales reflected that, with fans taking a wait-and-see approach due to concerns the home team might fall short of gold.

Bailey said Wednesday’s loss is not necessarily a sign that Canadian hockey is struggling, but that other countries are improving.

“Ten to 20 years ago we would always say it was Canada, Russia or the USA in the finals,” he said. “But today things are different because all these other teams — their game is up.”

Some Canadian fans were less forgiving, venting their frustration on social media.

WATCH: Victoria crazy for Team Kazakhstan at World Juniors

Captain Maxime Comtois was the victim of online abuse after failing to beat Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen on a penalty shot in overtime.

The Roy Sports Group, which represents Comtois, put out a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“It is shameful and incomprehensible that a few cowards who can hide behind social media could make such vicious attacks on these young men’s character after they have battled their hearts out for their country,” the statement reads.

“We will make this one and only statement on this subject, so not to validate anymore the cowardly comments made on social media. It was Maxime’s idea to use this as a learning moment for all of the youth of Canada, that cyber bullying is a real problem, and like all bullies, we all need to stand up to them and call them out for what they are.”

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said it’s time senior levels of government considered legislation to protect people from cyberbullying.
Renney said what happened to Comtois is “unfortunate” but a bigger question needs to be asked: How do we protect people from online bullying and harassment?
“At the end of the day that is something that must come from some type of legislation — federally, provincially, municipally, for that matter. But at the end of the day we need to protect our citizenship from those who don’t have the courage to deal with things straight up and identify themselves and communicate in a manner that would suggest some semblance of respect.”

Bailey notes the ticket market for the gold medal game has dropped substantially, which could be a blessing in disguise for hardcore fans who can now watch some “really, really good hockey, inexpensively.”

“On any given shift you can look at two to three potential NHL superstars,” he said.

Some of those potential stars are Vancouver Canucks prospects, who may provide a silver lining for local hockey fans.

WATCH: World Juniors kick off in Vancouver, Victoria

Finland’s Utunen scored the overtime winner Wednesday against Canada’s DiPietro. Both are Canucks draft picks.

Quinn Hughes of the U.S., the seventh overall draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, is a critical part of the Canucks’ ongoing rebuild.

Hughes is playing alongside Tyler Madden, who was picked by the Canucks in the third round of the 2018 draft and is hoping to play with Hughes at the NHL level.

Finland will face Switzerland in their semifinal on Friday at 8 p.m. ET with the U.S. meeting Russia at 4 p.m. ET.

The winners of the two semifinal games will meet in the gold medal game at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.

All games will be played at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.

— With files from Sarah MacDonald, Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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