World Juniors 2019: Putting the Barrett Hayton incident in perspective

At the World Juniors 2019 tournament, Team Canada’s captain Barrett Hayton didn’t take off his helmet for the national anthem after a loss to Russia. Should he be punished, and how much?

It was the handshake line heard around the world. Well, it was heard around the World Juniors 2019 tournament, at least. As if Canada suffering their worst ever World Juniors defeat when they fell to Team Russia by the score of 6-0 wasn’t bad enough, the great North had to indulge in a bit of after game controversy as well thanks to team captain Barrett Hayton.

For those who aren’t up to speed on what I’m talking about, after every World Junior game, the national anthem of the winner is played prior to the handshake line. Hayton failed to remove his helmet, causing visibly frustration and anger from the Russian junior team. Hayton was snubbed in the handshake line.

To his credit, Hayton, who also plays for the Arizona Coyotes, was quick to issue an apology.

The internet, being the internet, already had their own opinions coming in. Most seemed to accept his apology and dismissed the incident as nothing more than a minor lapse in judgment for the young athlete.

Others called for harsher punishments, ranging from removing his captaincy to being sent home from the tournament. Most of the most drastic proposals came from the Russia side of the conflict, although former NHLer Devin Setoguchi offered his own harsh commentary as well.

This is one of the first times the NHL has found itself in a bit if national anthem controversy. The issue has been prevalent in the NFL regarding the American national anthem, but largely skated by the sport of hockey minus one viral clip of an FHL coach demanding his players respect the anthem during training camp. What, if any, punishment should Hayton face?

People calling for Hayton’s removal from the tournament are overreacting, no doubt. The most severe punishment in World Juniors history is likely the 1987 “Punch Up In Piestany” which saw the ejection of both the Canadian and Soviet union teams after a bench-clearing brawl. Even over 30 years later, that event is looked on as a black eye in hockey history. In comparison, Hayton’s minor screw up looks diminished and forgettable.

As for the handshake line, junior sports are meant to encourage sportsmanship. Hence when players reject competitors in the handshake line its more controversial than in the NHL. The handshake line at the end of a long and grueling playoff series in one of the NHL’s favorite traditions, but there have been a few rare instances where all was not left on the ice.

For example, seeing Hayton’s snubbed by Canadian counterparts reminded me of when Martin Brodeur refused to shake Sean Avery’s hand after a 2008 playoff matchup between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. Brodeur was criticized for a lack of sportsmanship, but Avery’s unsportsmanlike conduct personally against Brodeur let the NHL to add the “Sean Avery Rule” regarding screening the goaltender.

My personal opinion on the matter is that you should always respect your teammates, and especially your competitor. Failing to show respect for your competitor shows a lack of not only sportsmanship but maturity.

That being said, Hoyten’s quick apology comes off as genuine and sincere as a lapse of judgment and not worthy to judge his character. Sure people deal in the absolutes of “what if it was a Russian player not taking off his helmet for the Canadian anthem” (which Setoguchi put forward in a following tweet), but until that actually happens, we won’t make the comparison.

While researching a bit for this article, I found a very interesting piece a few years old from The Hockey News. The main summary is that, in the wake of not earning a medal at the 2016 tournament, that losing doesn’t define the team, and that the players will most likely go onto to have very successful NHL careers.

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Case in point, as Hoyten continues to grow as a player, he will be more remembered for the impact he had, or failed to have, as a player. If he can carve out a successful path to a successful career, barely anyone will remember his helmet snafu from the 2019 World Juniors.