Russian taunts ignite Canucks

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

Michael Richards came off the plane yesterday without his championship medal or his luggage.

But you couldn't take away the golden smile of the Canadian junior team captain, aglow with a sweep of the world junior tournament and restoration of a nation's junior hockey pride.

Richards chuckled when asked how the team celebrated on the bus to Winnipeg after knocking off cocky Russian Alexander Ovechkin and his comrades 6-1 in Tuesday's final in Grand Forks, N.D.

"It was great, but everyone sat down when we got to the border and we were all quiet (for customs)," Richards said. "Then the customs guys came on and started cheering, asking for autographs. You don't really see how much of an impact we had, but then you see how much everyone watches this team and enjoys it."

Some American players had asked the Canucks to give no quarter to the Russians after Ovechkin had lipped off to the U.S. bench during their semi-final win over the Yanks. Not that the Canadians needed the extra motivation, after Ovechkin stated his doubts about Canadian goalie Jeff Glass.

"We heard that, but we didn't pay much attention to it," Richards said. "We knew what Jeff was all about, that he could play in those key situations. (Ovechkin) said those things before the game, but it feels good to know now that we beat him.

"I think after what the Russians did to the Americans, how they taunted them, it kind of gave us a boost. Watching that game at our hotel, it really made us want to win all that much more. We didn't want them doing that to us."

Richards had given his medal to his parents to bring home to Kenora while he returned to the Kitchener Rangers for a game against Brampton tomorrow.

The Canadians, who did not trail the entire tournament in ending an eight-year gold drought, said their goodbyes yesterday in Winnipeg before flying back to their junior clubs. Anthony Stewart's family greeted him yesterday morning, while Richards, London's Corey Perry and Team Canada assistant/Rangers head coach Peter De Boer were among those arriving in the afternoon.

"Now it's really sinking in," Richards said. "Remembering last year in Finland (blowing a third-period lead to lose the gold to the U.S.) was heart-breaking. There were 12 of us here who still had that bitter taste in our mouths. I couldn't have come back with another defeat."

Richards and others spoke on the phone with Tim Brent and Daniel Paille, members of that 2004 team.

"They were excited that we'd finished what they started," Richards said. "They were a big part of this, too."

Richards was modest about his team being called the greatest Canuck junior squad ever assembled, but not Canadian Hockey League president Dave Branch.

"I always felt the 1995 team in the Red Deer tournament was the best," Branch said. "But the way (the 2005 team) dominated last night, there's no doubt in my mind they are."

De Boer credited coach Brent Sutter.

"It's more people management than technical coaching," De Boer said. "and at the end of the day, that is coaching."

"You have 20 guys who are captains or leading scorers who have to buy into roles and he did a good job at getting guys to focus on that."


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