For 10 straight years at the World Junior Hockey Championships, we’ve seen Team Canada take a trip to the gold medal final and come home with the goods on a consistent basis. It’s not surprising to hear that we, as Canadians, have developed a taste for winning in this tournament.
For the 2012 edition of Team Canada, they found themselves playing arch-rival Russia in the semi-finals thanks to an easy run through the round robin and the United States seemingly not even putting up a fight. Despite their success, I had my worries about Canada breezing through because of the silver finishes in the last two years. In fact, I know many others did as well.
And for good reason.
Canada needed to come out of the gates guns a-blazing and get on the Russians early since they were coming off a hard-fought overtime win just 24 hours prior over Sweden. But they didn’t. Instead, they had a soft and terribly positioned first 40 minutes that put them in a 6-1 hole, complete with unfortunate puck luck and questionable officiating. Cue the collective depression of an entire nation.
Instead of crawling further into that hole and rolling over however, the Canadians pulled off a near-comeback that nobody expected. I mean, most comebacks aren’t expected but this was like something scripted out of a movie. And when I say a non-expectant comeback, the proof lies in the fact that many had left the Saddledome in Calgary long before the third period began.
But it all comes back to the old adage of all good things must come to an end. Like the TSN broadcasters said, sometimes you get the magic of a Jordan Eberle with last-second heroics and sometimes all you get are posts and shots going high or wide.
So, where does this semi-final loss measure up in true ouch factor for Canada?
The unlucky bounce in Helsinki off Braydon Coburn that cost Canada the gold to the Americans was a real heartbreaker. I don’t think any fan of the World Juniors will ever forget what it was like to see that game end the way it did. Most can probably replay that moment in their heads from memory, though I certainly don’t encourage it right now.
The overtime loss to the Americans in Saskatoon hurt because of the two spectacular late goals by Eberle to send it to overtime. I still say that if the tables were turned, the Americans wouldn’t have been able to come back like that despite the shoddy goaltending Canada had. Besides, not only did they come back in that game but the New Year’s Eve spectacle to win the pool was also the result of a Canadian push to overtime.
The third period collapse to the Russians in Buffalo really stung. Getting into the building by way of miracle 20 minutes before puck drop and the 3-0 early lead that Canada built up made it seem like a dream come true. But the Russians played so much harder and seemed to want it more than the boys sporting the red maple leaf that night. That was a hard lesson I learned in taking winning for granted.
Considering how ugly the score was early in tonight’s game, this loss doesn’t quite stab at the heart the way other ones have even with it being on home soil, at least not for me. They showed that Canadian fight and made it a game that many thought was long over and gave the country something to cheer for in the end.
As for who’s to blame, I think it still comes as a collective finger wagging for the whole group. Canada had a problem with penalties since the beginning of the tournament and couldn’t control their emotion in the right way when things began to unravel. Boone Jenner’s spear that got him tossed and Brett Connolly’s antics right in front of the official were just a couple of examples of these players proving what they are: kids.
Now, all they have left to play for is the bronze medal, which they haven’t had to do since 2001 in Moscow, ironically enough. While their streak for appearances in the gold medal game has come to screeching halt, they still have a medal streak in sight. Winning bronze would secure Canada their 14th straight medal at this tournament.
Losing is not a bad thing for this country, believe it or not. As tragic as it seems and as much as it takes giant chunks out of our flag-waving, hockey stick-yielding proud selves, it’s not the end of the world. Getting a slice of humble pie certainly doesn’t leave the same delicious taste as a gold medal around the boys’ necks but what doesn’t kill Hockey Canada will only make it stronger.
I obviously can’t predict the future but with the tournament shifting back to Europe next year in Ufa, Russia, maybe Canada will have an extra little something on their list of things to do when the new group suits up for our country. Until then, we’ll see if the 2012 World Juniors can at least end on bronze winning note. It may not feel the same, but one last off-key rendition of O Canada never hurt.