The 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships came to an end on Friday night when Canada, thanks to a late goal from Tyler Steenbergen, knocked off Sweden 2-1 in the Gold Medal game.
That is when the real show started.
During the medal ceremonies Lias Andersson, a 2017 first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers and the captain of team Sweden, was so disgusted with the result that he immediately removed his silver medal, calmly skated over to the glass, and then gently tossed it into the stands where it was caught by a fan.
The fan put the medal on (only after removing two different jerseys to reveal a Team Sweden jersey!) before throwing it back in an effort to return it to Andersson.
The immediate reaction on social media was swift, with Andersson’s mentions on Twitter quickly becoming a cesspool that called his sportsmanship, class and maturity all into question.
There also seemed to be a popular belief that Andersson, who has already been on the losing end of Gold Medal game for team Sweden at the Under-18 tournament, had simply made a mistake that he would one day come to regret, and that it was good that he was able to get his medal back.
[Tyler Steenbergen’s Late Goal Helps Canada Win World Junior Gold]
One person that did not seem to share the opinion was Lias Andersson.
When he met with the media following the game Andersson doubled down on his medal toss, saying “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.”
He also added that he hasn’t looked at his silver medal from the under-18 tournament in more than two years, and when asked if he was happy that the medal was returned to him, he simply said no.
In the end, he shouldn’t have any regrets and no one that isn’t in his position at that exact moment (a 19-year-old, in a highly competitive environment that had just minutes earlier fallen painfully short in what was to this point the biggest hockey moment of his life) should be judging him too harshly.
Or at all.
He is the one that put in the work, he is the one that competed, he is the one that has been on the losing end of these games on an international stage and has had to deal with the defeat.
We put athletes in an often times impossible, no-win situation when it comes to their emotions.
If the cameras had caught Lias Andersson sitting on the bench cracking a smile or laughing late in a loss he would be getting criticized for not caring enough.
This is a sports culture that has spent years and countless hours analyzing the body language of players like Jay Cutler or Phil Kessel and concluding they may not care about winning as much as we want them to because they’re not flipping over water coolers or breaking things when things are going poorly. Or because they just don’t “look” like they care enough for our own liking.
We always hear executives, or coaches, or analysts talk about how they want players that hate to lose more than they want to win. We demand to see passion and emotion, and as fans we want to know the players on the field, or the ice, or the basketball court care as much as we do.
But not everyone handles it the same way. Not everyone accepts it or deals with it the same way.
Some players look like emotionless zombies. That doesn’t mean the frustration and passion isn’t underneath the surface.
Lias Andersson showed you the raw passion and emotion on Friday night. All of it.
He clearly came into this tournament (his last chance to win gold at the tournament) with the only goal being a gold medal. He clearly did not want a medal for losing. Did he handle it in a way that most players would have? Or that any other player in a similar tournament has in the past? Absolutely not. But that’s kind of what was awesome about it.
You can’t have it both ways here.
You can’t demand to see passion and emotion from athletes and then be disgusted when you see it in its rawest form. Because that’s what hating to lose and not accepting anything other than victory looks like.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.