Controversial barrel celebration wasn't a shot at Canada, says U.S. junior coach
'No disrespect to anyone, especially Canada,' Nate Leaman says
Anytime Canada and U.S. square off in any sporting event, the stakes are high. But when world junior hockey gold is on the line, the intensity increases.
Tuesday night's world junior gold-medal game was no different. In the leadup to the game, U.S. forward, Trevor Zegras made a bold claim that Canada hadn't been tested in the world juniors yet. Those words were not well received before the game, but the Anaheim Ducks prospect helped back the claim up as the U.S. defeated Canada 2-0 in the final, with Zegras scoring the second goal and assisting on the first.
USA posing for team picture with what appears to be a trash can with a Canada logo on it. <a href="https://t.co/YuGdxTGBBt">pic.twitter.com/YuGdxTGBBt</a>—@TSNRyanRishaug
After the game, however, controversy stirred. U.S. players and coaches were posing for a team picture with the trophy and its gold medals when a barrel was brought out with a Canadian logo. According to Zegras, the barrel is something they did throughout the tournament.
"We pretty much had a barrel for each team we were playing," Zegras said in his post-game interview. "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."
WATCH | U.S defeats Canada to win world junior gold:
Zegras added the barrel was symbolic as it was about "getting to the next barrel, not looking too far ahead, only looking to that game, the next opponent."
Although the barrel was not well received by Canadians, U.S. head coach, Nate Leaman explained the meaning of the barrel and the story that comes with it.
This is the story that the Barrel idea is derived from. Sent in a Dec 19th US internal team newsletter. <a href="https://t.co/mHS6msk5ZS">pic.twitter.com/mHS6msk5ZS</a>—@TSNRyanRishaug
"It's a story that when I was an assistant coach [with the USA at world juniors] in 2007, that [head coach] Ron Rolston brought to our team," Leaman said.
"About crossing the heart of the Sahara Desert, crossing a terrain that's 500 miles long, that over 1,300 people had perished and the only way that they could figure to cross this part of the Sahara Desert was to put barrels out so that when you got to one barrel, the only thing you could see was the next barrel on the horizon. I shared the story with the guys before the tournament, and let them know that we're not going to talk about the gold medal. All we're talking about is going one barrel at a time."
Just to be transparent. It was barrel on the ice with our team after the game. It was motivation for our team to take the tournament one game at a time. I am sure every team had something of motivation. The barrel was ours. No disrespect to Canada who is a great team.—@CoachLeaman
Leaman went to Twitter after his press conference to further add that it was not meant to be disrespectful to Canada or anyone. Instead, it was a rallying cry for the U.S. team to remain focused on the task ahead.
"We took a selfie in the locker room around the barrel after every win," Leaman added. "Every one of our wins, we have our team around the barrel in the locker room. … (Tonight) they got into the emotion of the celebration, they wanted to get the barrel on the ice. No disrespect to anyone, especially Canada, who played a great game today and obviously had a great team. it's not disrespectful to them. I'm sure every team had something in the tournament that they rallied around, and ours was the barrel."
With the win over Canada on Tuesday, the U.S. has now won five world junior gold medals. The win also gave the Americans its fourth consecutive victory over Canada in a world junior final, having earned wins in 2004, 2010, 2017 and 2021.