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Canada's goaltender Mark Visentin kneels near the bench after the were defeated by Russia in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, New York, January 5, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Canada's goaltender Mark Visentin kneels near the bench after the were defeated by Russia in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, New York, January 5, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Roy MacGregor

For Russians, one of the greatest comebacks in international hockey Add to ...

It will go down as a Game for the Ages … in Russia.

Canada collapsed - no other explanation required - and the world junior championship gold-medal game that was en route to being a victory for the little guys bizarrely twisted into one for the bad guys - at least in the shocked, disbelieving eyes of the Canadian fans who packed HSBC Arena to witness one of the greatest comebacks in international hockey history.

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Up 3-0 heading into the third period, and seemingly completely in control, Team Canada simply lost control, losing the gold medal that that they were all but biting after two periods to a determined Team Russia that basically knocked the teeth out of an entire country.

"This is the worst I have ever felt," said Canadian defenceman Tyson Barrie when it was over.

Join the line, young man.

"I can't believe it happened," added Team Canada goaltender Mark Visentin.

In a 20-minute span, the solid Canadian defence broke, the superb goaltending vanished and, when the final buzzer sounded, the gold medal was Russia's.

When Russian captain Vladimir Taresenko one-timed a hard shot behind Visentin to tie the match before the third period was half over, you could almost see the red bleed from the all-Canadian sellout audience at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.

It marked the third goal in six shots in under five minutes for the Russians, shocking the crowd as much as the Canadian team that seemed merely an anthem short of its sixth gold medal in the past seven years at the world junior hockey championships.

When Artemi Panarin scored by clipping a puck past Visentin despite three Canadian checkers, it gave Russia a 4-3 lead and sent it on to a 5-3 victory. The final Russian goal came in the dying seconds - but by then the all-Canadian crowd was already dead, its very breath taken away by the Russian domination on the ice.

"It was a third-period collapse," said Brayden Schenn, who scored for Canada. "We sat back too much in the third."

Early on, however, it had appeared Canada's nearly-annual Christmas present was being delivered by the elves. First it was Ryan Ellis, the Team Canada captain who could dress in a locket rather than a locker, one-timing a blast on an early power play that looked like it might set the tone for the night and help bring Canada its sixth world junior championship gold medal in the last seven years.

When the Russians tried to come back from that early setback, it was again the teenies on this teenage hockey team that came through. If it wasn't Cody Eakin crashing into unsuspecting Russian players, it was Barrie diving to prevent what appeared a clear breakaway.

Sure these three Canadians are listed at 5 foot 10 to 6 foot and claim to weigh anywhere from 184 to 190 pounds, but hockey heights and weights are about as accurate as oil forecasts. The elves delivered early, and the big kids seemed about to take over when 6-foot-3, 219-pound Carter Ashton put Canada ahead 2-0 just as the all-critical opening period came to a close.

When Schenn scored to make it 3-0, it marked Schenn's 18th point of the tournament, tying him for the all-time Team Canada single tournament scoring lead with Dale McCourt, who set the mark in 1977.

Schenn was named the tournament's most valuable player as well as its best forward. Ellis claimed the top defenceman award and the best goaltender, rightly so, was Jack Campbell of Team U.S.A.

In a monumental, and embarrassing, irony, not a single Russian claimed one of the major individual awards, though defenceman Dmitri Orlov was named with Ellis to the media all-star team.

By the time Schenn tied the scoring mark, the Canadian domination of the awards - voted on before the third period - seemed a reasonable thing. The Russians had even replaced their starting goaltender, Dmitri Shikin, with Igor Bobkov.

The Canadians had come into this tournament vowing to avenge last year's gold-medal loss to the Americans in Saskatoon and did so in the semi-final when they outplayed, out-skated and out-thought the Americans on their way to a 4-1 win.

That victory over the Americans meant much to these youngsters, for as the late Al Purdy, poet and hockey fan, once accurately stated, success in hockey serves "as a Canadian specific to salve the anguish of inferiority at being good at something the Americans aren't."

Purdy never did say how the game figured into the Canadian psyche when the Russians come from so far behind to claim a win. However, it is significant that the Russians mounted successful comebacks in their final three games of this tournament: an overtime victory over Finland to stay alive, a shootout win over Sweden to reach the final, and this stunning third-period comeback to defeat Canada for the gold medal.

The two countries have been virtually twinned in the history of this tournament. Since 1982, both Canada and Russia (under various configurations) have won 24 medals, each claiming 15 gold in the World Junior Championship.

Now Russia has its 16th.

And Canada, a year from now in Calgary and Edmonton, has something else to avenge.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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