World Juniors: Medals!
I think this WJHC will go down as one of surprises followed by more surprises.
Beginning with the lowest finishers, Norway and Germany have been relegated for next year’s tournament. Norway finishes in 9th place, having beaten Germany 3-1 in their final game. Norway’srecord was 1-5, while Germany finished 0-6.
The Czech Republic beat Slovakia 5-2 to take 7th spot. Czech’s finish 3-3, while Slovakia was 2-4. Slovakia’s Richard Panik did manage to finish 5th in overall scoring with 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points.
Something of a surprise to some, Switzerland beat Finland 3-2 in a shootout to take 5th place. The Swiss have recently had success in training goalies, and while Benjamin Conz does not take all the credit for the Swiss placing so high, he did have some stellar performances to help his team along. Switzerland finished 3-3, while Finland could not win when it mattered. The Finns actually won 3 games, 2 by shutout, including an earlier 4-0 win against Switzerland. The Finns’ 3 losses came 2 in overtime, and finally by shootout to finish 6th.
In the Bronze Medal game, a tight game ended 4-2 in favor of the USA over Sweden to salvage something of the tournament for the Americans. The USA finishes 5-1, their only loss coming to Canada in the game that would have sent them to the Gold Medal game. Sweden finishes 4-2, losing their last 2 after starting 4-0. Obviously only 1 team can win gold, but both these squads had to believe they were in line for better than 3rd and 4th after having won their respective pools. In the end it seems perhaps both teams simply ran out of momentum.
Which brings us to the incredible story of the Gold Medal game. With a building full of Canadian supporters, and a mission to reclaim gold after losing out last year, Team Canada got out to a 1-0 lead 5 minutes in on a goal by Ryan Ellis. The Russians were not playing badly, but Canada seemed to be taking the physical play to them. Very late in the first, Carter Ashton scored to make it 2-0. With the building rocking, Brayden Schenn added another to put Canada up 3-0. The Russian coaches pulled Dmitri Shikin from the net, even though he’d played so well as the Russians had come back in previous games to get to the Gold Medal match. In went Igor Bobkov, who had lost the opening game on Boxing Day to Canada. At 2:33 of the third, and again at 2:46, Panarin and Kitsyn scored to bring Russia right back into the game. The first came from a scramble in front of Visentin, the second snuck through his pads. Suddenly, Team Canada were on their heels and the Russians were taking the game to them. It’s being called the greatest collapse in World Junior history, and that’s not difficult to believe. At 7:29, Tarasenko scored to tie it up, and 8 minutes later Panarin scored again to take the lead. An insurance goal by Dvurechenski sealed it.
Russia, a team that had lost it’s first 2 games, then handily beat their next 2 opponents, and then had to come back from deficits in 3 consecutive games in the medals round, captured gold. The Canadians, led by Brayden Schenn, who tied Dale McCourt’s record for most points in a single WJHC, come away with silver for the second year running.
Some will argue that maybe Russia does not deserve it. That logic goes something like this… that they had to come back 3 times, means maybe they were not the best team, that maybe they did not pay a complete game. Ultimately, what matters is that the Russia kids found a way to win when it counted. For many reasons, people believe Russian hockey is in trouble, given the state of the KHL, the decline in the number of Russians being selected in the NHL, etc. This medal shows that the Russians still know how to turn out very good players, and we’ll likely see more of Kitsyn, Tarasenko, Kuznetsov and Bobkov.
For Canada, questions will be asked, as they always are. Why did Coach Cameron not use a time out to refocus his players after the Russians made it 3-2? After seeing Shikin pulled, why did Cameron not pull Visentin in favor of Olivier Roy? Did Canada let up too early? Should they have pressed on in the second period and tried to build a larger lead? Or is it simply that while Canada is a great hockey nation, as shown by a 10th consecutive appearance in the Gold Medal game, maybe on one day or another, the Russians or Americans or Swedes also have something to prove?
Another tournament is over. And as is usual, the hockey was really spectacular. Also great was the support Team Canada got from their fans. I was unable to catch many games that Canada did not participate in, so I cannot say how good or bad the crowds were for other matchups. I do hope they were well attended, because this is one tournament where you are guaranteed to see some of the best hockey played by the stars of tomorrow.
Until next Boxing Day!