For the first time in 11 years, Canada finds itself playing for bronze instead of gold at the World Juniors this year in Alberta.
But that’s following one heck of a semi-final where Canada rallied in the third period from a 6-1 deficit to come within a goalpost of tying it in a 6-5 loss to the Russians who face Sweden in tonight’s gold medal game. Canada needs to stomach their disappointment and play for pride as they take on the Finns for the bronze.
Hey, can’t win em all.
This outcome is seen by some as a disaster of biblical proportions. Nonsense. A couple of mediocre periods shouldn’t stain these teenagers’ accomplishments at the WJC. But it will because in this country, gold is the only colour that counts when it comes to minor hockey. That’s a bloody shame because it papers over the tremendous amount of top shelf talent that’s out there amongst hockey playing nations.
Look, the Russians are just friggin’ awesome in the offensive skills department and only slightly lesser so in goal. Even with that, Canada almost staged an upset for the ages in that epic third period down four goals — a weird karmic reversal of the team’s meltdown last year where Canada coughed up a three-goal third period lead to lose the final to the Russians 5-3. Now that was ugly and heart-breaking. Tuesday’s semi-final loss was, as losses go, outstanding. A proud moment if you ask me. Hey just ask the people who vacated the Saddledome when the boys were down 6-1. They missed one of the greatest turnarounds in WJC history. Just came up a little short.
Now some fans and a few media types are hyper-ventilating about Canada’s goaltentending. As in, what happened? How could we give up six goals? A thorny question but you can’t lay all the blame at the skate blades of the goalies. Scott Wedgewood and Mark Visentin, seeking redemption from last year’s collapse, played quite well overall. Wedgewood was yanked after having some unlucky deflections go in off his own defencemen.
The bigger issue was the untested (to that point) Canadians were slow in reacting to the Russian’s speed and play-making. And when they did it was in taking undisciplined penalties.
But again, it basically came down to half a game of “thems the breaks” hockey.
This tournament is short and pressure-packed. When you’re finally faced going head to head with a worthy opponent instead of scrimmaging with the Danes and Finns in the opening round, things can go south in a hurry.
That’s really a structural problem of this tournament. It’s scheduled so that Canada has an easy-in the first couple of games, getting their legs as they blowout opponents, guaranteeing a first-round bye. That’s great for chest-puffing but it doesn’t do much for testing the Canadians mettle so that when it comes to the medal rounds, the team might actually be able to adapt having become battle ready, as were the Russians Tuesday night.
Still, it’s a result that’s good medicine for Team Canada and Canadian minor hockey. A little bitter and disappointing sure (not the least of which will be TSN in suffering a ratings hit) that we won’t be in it for all the marbles.
But hey, get a grip. Canada’s played in the final for 10 straight years. I’m sorry but … boring! Do we really want the WJC to become women’s Olympic hockey where it’s Canada vs USA, Canada vs USA, Canada vs USA…until our eyes glaze over? By the way, can’t any other females other than North Americans play this damn game? Just asking…
But that’s kinda what’s been happening with Canada in the WJC. Only we’re too caught up in the hype to notice that it may not be the best thing for the game. This loss helps restore competitive balance at the junior level.
So be happy this year’s gold medal will be going to guys with a lot of vowels and weird letter combinations in their names. Cheer them anyway.
Next year when the scene shifts to Russia and the Canadians are up against it on foreign turf, then they’ll really need our support and patriotism.