The results were heartbreaking; and the fallout wholly predictable.
Canada lost a 6-5 decision to Russia in world junior semi-final action Tuesday night, and if anything, this defeat and how it happened, may have even topped the disappointment of last year’s loss in the gold-medal game.
If such a thing is possible.
Canada fell behind 6-1 and looked hopelessly out of it, or until the 9:20 mark of the third period, when they rattled off four consecutive goals to get to within one, with lots of time on the clock. Everything looked possible, and surely, the Canadians must have felt that they could turn the tables on the Russians a year after Russia rattled five in a row past them in the third period a year ago.
Things got so desperate for the Russians that coach Valeri Bragin took the extraordinary step of giving starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski the hook - and went to Andrei Makarov with under six minutes to go. Makarov looked vulnerable, but try as they might, the Canadians couldn’t get one past him.
“I think we left it all out there,” murmured defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who scored once in the Canadian rally. “It’s too bad the first two periods didn’t go our way. But I think that third period was one of the most special third periods of my life - just the things we did at the end. I think I learned a lot from that. Moving on in my career, I think I’m going to learn a lot from that period.”
What they did was throw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink towards the Russian goal. When asked how much more time the Canadians needed to close the gap completely, Hamilton answered: “I didn’t think we needed any more time. The goalie stood on his head. We hit a post. I think we could have had 10 goals in the last 10 minutes. That’s just the way it is sometimes.”
The downside in Canada’s great comeback was that if they’d been more composed at different times in the second period, they may not have needed a five-goal rally.
“I think maybe guys started to get frustrated a little,” said Hamilton. “Everybody really wants the gold pretty bad. We lost sight of it a bit and got frustrated. Just to be able to come back was pretty cool and pretty special. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted, but I think that shows a lot about our character.”
Canadian forward Mark Stone is a skilled scorer on the ice and a no-nonsense sort off the ice. He summed up the loss this way:
“It was very disappointing the way we played in the first two periods and it cost us the game. I really don’t know what happened. Obviously, we’re disappointed in the result, but we came together as a group for one reason in this tournament and that was to win the gold.”
So can they still get fired up for the bronze-medal game against Finland?
Stone figures yes.
“It’s our last couple of days as a group and we made a lot of new friends,” he said. “We want to do it for each other and we want to do it for Hockey Canada. So many people have helped us along the way; and we owe it to them.”
Canada has won a medal at the world junior for 13 consecutive years and will face a Finnish team they defeated 8-1 earlier in the tournament.
“It’s my first big tournament in my life,” said Russia’s Nail Yakupov, who produced four assists and showed why he is the consensus first overall pick for next year’s NHL entry draft. Yakupov was exuberant in the mixed zone afterward, noting: “We win. We're pretty excited. We beat Canada. Russia win. Russia better than Canada.”
Yakupov’s junior coach in Sarnia, Jacques Beaulieu, father of Canada’s Nathan Beaulieu, will now be required to wear a Russian jersey at practice once the tournament ends, based on a wager they made a few weeks ago.
“We didn't finish strong,” said Yakupov. “But we scored six goals and we beat Canada .. I think we have 30, 40 Russian guys from Siberia (in the stands). They put on our jersey and they cheer for us. This is my first big tournament. I'm so happy.”
Canadian goaltender Scott Wedgewood came out after four goals, the victim of a collision with Russian forward Alexander Khokhlachev. Wedgewood said he was blindsided by the hit. Of the result, he noted: “That's not what we wanted. Obviously we wanted that gold and that's not going to happen.
“It's a cliche but true: you have to play a full 60 minutes. It's a learning experience.”
With a file from Al Maki