Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bummer in Buffalo: Canada Loses Heartbreaker

russia best wjc
I can’t go anywhere on the internet today without being reminded of the ugly scene that occurred in front of me last night. Canada held a 3-0 lead heading into the third period against the Russians in the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championship. Just as the Russians were making a charge in the second Canada scored to make it 3-0, which seemingly sealed the deal. However, the Russians came back from a 3-1 deficit in the third against the Fins in the quarter-final to win 4-3 in overtime and they erased a 3-2 deficit to beat Sweden in a shootout in the semi-finals, so Canada should have been wary entering the third.

Instead, the Canadians figured the game was over, sit back, and in less than five minutes the Russians tied the game at 3 and quickly poured it on – ending the game with a decisive 5-3 victory. That’s five unanswered goals in the third. That’s Torontonian (a bit of a stretch to assume the Leafs actually can get a lead).

This is the second year in a row the Canadians have suffered a bitter defeat. Last year John Carlson scored in overtime to win gold after Jordan Eberle scored two late third period goals to force the extra frame and now the Russians throttle Canada in the third.

All the attention that gets paid to this tournament is a little overblown considering these are just teenagers. This isn’t the end of the world. The Russians get some revenge for the Jordan Eberle magic a few years ago and we Canadians get to feel the sting of defeat. I guess that’s just sports.

Losing two straight gold medal games hurts, but Canada has been in ten straight finals and recently strung together five straight gold medals. It wasn’t always like this.

There have been 38 World Junior Hockey Championships if you include three unofficial ones that occurred from 1974-1976 (no idea why they're unofficial). Canada has won 15 – close to 40% - which is certainly a lot, but we seem to take our hockey superiority for granted and assume that we will win gold every single year. The reality is there are a lot of good hockey nations out there and it is more than presumptive to think that Canada can waltz into every tournament and demand gold. Yes, leading 3-0 in the third period should ensure gold, but that’s why you play the full 60 minutes instead of planning your after party during the second intermission.

Quick side note. A few years ago I was playing in a beer league (because comparing future NHLers playing with the weight of a nation on their shoulders to a bunch of 20-somethings with varying degrees of relatively minimal talent is always appropriate). It was game 2 of the championship (I was super pumped just to play in a series because my talent level precluded me from cool things like multi-game series as a kid) and our team struck a 3-0 lead with a few minutes left in the second. It was also a Saturday night and a bunch of our friends were in the stands and we planned a huge party afterwards because we were leading the series 1-0. Clinching game, baby! So obviously we got really excited about winning and having an awesome celebratory party afterwards. Well, the opposition scored a late second period goal to make it 3-1 and you could feel the momentum shift. They ended up rallying in the third and tied the series. The awesome celebratory party turned into a ‘let’s drink our depression away’ party. But we were all Leafs fans so we were used to that sort of drinking. This quick side note is becoming a long side note so I’ll end it by saying we won game 3 a few nights later and everything was right in the world.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Canada.

Two silvers in a row may seem rough, but it wasn’t that long ago that the upper levels of Canadian hockey began to seriously wonder if there was something wrong with the Canadian game. There were serious inquiries… seriously.

After winning five straight gold medals from 1993-1997 (and 8 in 10 years) Canada had a seven-year drought (from 1998-2004) where they did not win gold once. They won silver four times, bronze twice, and once finished eighth – thanks to a 6-3 loss to Kazakhstan… You read that correctly. Antropov was probably super bomb that game.

It’s shocking to think that Canada was shut out from gold for seven straight tournaments, especially considering the litany of future quality NHLers that highlighted those teams. Those players included: Roberto Luongo, Vincent Lecavalier, Brenden Morrow, Simon Gagne, Brian Campbell, Robyn Regehr, Brad Richards, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Mike Ribiero, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Cammalleri, Dan Hamhuis, Brad Boyes, Rick Nash, and Derek Roy. Even the 2004 team that had Marc-Andre Fleury, Dion Phaneuf, Brayden Coburn, Josh Gorges, Brent Seabrook, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Brent Burns, and Sidney Crosby fell short in the gold medal game.

Eventually, things got back on track and Canada won another five gold medals in a row.

Ultimately, these are just kids and losing your mind over this loss is a little much. But it still sucks and it wasn’t fun seeing the Russians super happy. So kudos to the Russians. Down three to start the third is daunting. Scoring five unanswered goals to win gold is impressive. We’ll see you next year.


Ted Rigby said...

Yeah the World Juniors (or World Jues for short) are really just the easiest way for Canadians to keep a steady track on our dominance of the hockey world. The World Championship thing during the playoffs precludes many of the best teams with some of the best players, and the Olympics are only every 9 years or so, so instead we gotta obsess over the children.

Matt Horner said...

Hopefully Luke Schenn plays in the world championships this year! It'll give me a reason to care. I hope they'd ask Phaneuf, but not sure he's been Canada-worthy. Or maybe he's too busy bangin' Elisha Cuthbert to care.

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