Saying disparaging things about one’s opponent is generally frowned upon in sports, but sometimes it’s needed.
Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme publicly tweaked the noses of the Swedish national under-20 team in the build-up to the world junior championship semi-final, suggesting they find a way to lose on the big stage.
A few hours before the puck drop, Swedish counterpart Tomas Monten slyly retorted, “It’s more for you media guys and to spice things up, maybe sell more tickets.”
Ah yes, well, touché.
This year’s tournament has indeed been bedevilled by poor-to-middling attendance, but if the Bell Centre wasn’t full it was certainly not shy about expressing its appreciation for the hockey on display.
Oh, and it turns out Ducharme was not far wrong; the Swedes would give up leads of 1-0 and 2-1 and now will play for bronze on Thursday.
Canada, on the other hand, will play for the championship against archrival United States courtesy of a thrilling 5-2 victory that didn’t earn many style points. Tournament organizers now have their dream final.
Team Canada goaltender Connor Ingram joked this week that his mother is such a nervous watcher of his games the family might have to bar her from attending his next start in person.
This was not a game for shaky nerves, and though Ingram and his kin have ample reasons to feel proud about his performance in this tournament, it wasn’t to be his night.
Ducharme had emphasized the importance of getting off to a good start in this one, and his charges followed that injunction to the letter.
But Sweden, unbeaten through the tournament, is not exactly bereft of skill and it opened the scoring with Canada on the power play when Joel Eriksson-Ek, the big Minnesota Wild prospect, whipped a shot into the far side on Ingram.
Canada replied within two minutes – Mitchell Stephens of the OHL Saginaw Spirit chipped in from the lip of the crease – but the next save attempt fro Ingram didn’t go according to plan.
Defenceman Thomas Chabot got caught up ice, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom barrelled in on a partial break – and the puck rolled off his stick and slid agonizingly between Ingram’s legs.
Two goals on three shots in an elimination game gets you a seat on the bench, unfortunately for the Imperial, Sask., native.
In came Carter Hart, and Canada duly tied the proceedings before the frame expired.
It required an obvious flop by Chabot to draw a Swedish penalty first, then Anthony Cirelli, like Stephens a Tampa Bay Lightning draft, zinged a shot past Felix Sandstrom in the Swedish net.
The Swedes are a speedy team and ooze skill, but the Canadians quickly learned that if the game was decided along the boards and in the corners it would be to their advantage.
And so the second became a contest of wills between a team trying to cycle and grind and another trying to counterattack with speed.
There were harrowing moments for both goaltenders, but after Canada killed a hooking penalty to Tyson Jost of the University of North Dakota, Cirelli rattled a shot off the post.
It was a warning. Julien Gauthier, a burly Carolina Hurricanes prospect, made it 3-2 a few moments later, jamming home a puck that Sandstrom felt he’d stopped against the post with his right toe.
Sandstrom was nothing short of marvellous from that point, rebuffing scoring chances from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jost with saves that could fairly be described as miraculous.
In the third, he could do little when, with the teams at four-on-four once again, Canada captain Dylan Strome’s shot made it through Matthew Barzal’s expert screen. Gauthier added an empty-netter.
In the first semi-final, the United States bested Russia in a gripping, flowing encounter that had to be resolved by a shootout.
Several Russian players clearly thought they’d won when goalie Ilya Samsonov turned away the Americans’ third attempt – but not so fast.
The IIHF modified the medal-round shootout rule to make it a best-of-five. There was confusion, there were referee conferences, and they never did get it quite right. After the initial five-shot round ended tied, the countries were supposed to alternate who shoots first.
Ultimately, Anaheim Ducks prospect Troy Terry solved Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov for the win. It was his third goal in as many attempts, recalling countryman T.J. Oshie’s feat at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
It was a closely fought win, but the Americans won’t be approaching the final with any kind of inferiority complex.
“We have a gold-medal team here,” U.S. goaltender Tyler Parsons said.
It’s only a boast if the Americans can’t beat the Canadians on their home ice Thursday.Report Typo/Error