BUFFALO – Dave Cameron made himself unpopular with the media during the world junior hockey tournament thanks to his great reluctance to share even the most trivial information but the Canadian head coach did, albeit inadvertently, offer a hint to what was behind his team’s astonishing meltdown in the gold-medal game.
The hint actually came in the days leading up to the tournament when Cameron discussed the makeup of his team. He spoke often of how the talent pool of teenaged players in Canada goes in cycles. Right now, the coach said, there is an abundance of big, bruising forwards, so that is why the Canadian team became a fore-checking force built around the likes of Brayden Schenn, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Johansen and Zack Kassian.
If you apply the coach’s theory to the rest of the team, then the monumental third-period collapse that saw the Russians score five unanswered goals comes into focus. During the exhibition games and once the tournament started, it became clear the weakest part of the Canadian team was its defensive game. The overall talent of the defencemen and goaltenders did not match that of the forwards.
Going back even further, to the selection camp and the evaluation camp last summer, almost every media report your agent read mentioned that the goaltenders as a group did not impress anyone.
This was not a new development. When the Canadians lost the 2010 world junior final to the United States, they had to pull Jake Allen, the starting goaltender. In the last two years, Canada coughed up 11 goals in the gold-medal game.
Both Mark Visentin, who was handed the No. 1 goaltender’s job when Olivier Roy faltered in the preliminary round, and the defencemen had their moments. Their best ones came in the decisive win over the Americans in the semi-final and in the first two periods against Russia. The defence did a great job of collapsing around Visentin to limit the tough shots he had to face and cut down the traffic in front of him.
But when the skilled and speedy Russians refused to quit and started to get through early in the third period, panic set in. The defencemen started running around and Visentin was unable to make a big save.
This is not to lay this disaster entirely at the door of Visentin, although as the goaltender he was the central figure. Everyone had a hand in it, including the forwards, who stopped controlling the puck for long stretches in the Russian zone.
But when the will and work ethic of both teams is equal, talent is the deciding factor. There simply wasn’t enough of it on the back end for Canada.