Team USA angered Canadian hockey fans after defeating their hometown team at the world junior championship in Edmonton on Tuesday, when the American players added a barrel with the Hockey Canada logo to their victory photo.
The incident happened after the U.S. defeated Canada 2-0 in the gold medal game at the annual tournament late Tuesday.
Video from the post-game celebration shows several American players sliding a blue barrel over to where the team was posing for photos. A piece of paper with the Hockey Canada logo had been taped to the barrel.
Canadians blew up in anger on social media after TSN’s Ryan Rishaug tweeted that the object might be a “trash can with a Canada logo on it.”
“If this is true, to me it’s the absolute worst form of disrespect, immaturity and absolute trash, pun intended,” one popular response said. “Disgraceful.”
Team USA players and officials later explained that the object was a barrel, not a trash can, and that the coaches had used it as a motivational tool throughout the tournament. The players had a barrel for each opponent they faced, and would take a selfie with it after defeating the other team.
“It was motivation for our team to take the tournament one game at a time,” Team USA head coach Nate Leaman tweeted. “The barrel was ours. No disrespect to Canada who is a great team.”
Team officials also shared an internal email that was sent around in December, which explains the history of the barrel. The email included a story about how the French would cross the Sahara Desert by going from one cached barrel of oil to another — basically crossing the desert “one barrel at a time.”
“We pretty much had a barrel for each team we were playing,” U.S. forward Trevor Zegras, 19, said after the game. “Each game we just wanted to get to the next barrel. Today was our last barrel. We threw the Canada sign up there, (put) it on the ice and took our picture. It was kind of our thing this tournament.”
It’s not the first time accusations of unsportsmanlike conduct have been hurled around the tournament, which brings together players under the age of 20.
At last year’s tournament, Canadian captain Barrett Hayton was accused of disrespecting his Russian opponents by refusing to take off his helmet during their anthem. He later apologized for the snub.
Canada won last year’s tournament but will settle for silver following their result against the U.S. on Tuesday.