VANCOUVER -- Surprise, surprise!
Canada successfully defended its world junior gold medal, capping a stunning run at the 2006 event last night with a 5-0 rout of Russia before a packed GM Place.
"I never envisioned this to happen to me," said Steve Downie, who scored the winner at 17:13 of the first period. "I'm just thankful to be here and it's better than I could even have possibly imagined."
This Canadian team was supposed to be up against a big challenge to win gold for the second year in a row. Instead, it will join past Canadian clubs in a group that dominated like few others. With 12 players eligible to return for the 2007 tournament in Sweden, Canada was seen by many as too young to earn another gold. Yet it did just that, allowing only six goals to set a record for fewest in one tournament.
Canada, which went 6-0 for the second year in a row, has claimed back-to-back golds for the first time since its five in a row from 1993-97.
This time around, there was no Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby or Dion Phaneuf of a year ago, when Canada put together its most talented junior team.
But teens such as goalie Justin Pogge, who made nearly all of his stops look easy; Marc Staal and Ryan Parent, the defence pair who relished every assignment of shutting down the top opposition forwards; and forwards Downie and Dustin Boyd, who checked and scored when it was needed, are Canada's new hockey heroes today.
"There were a lot of doubters out there for us," captain Kyle Chipchura said. "As a team we didn't really listen to it. We believed in each other. We went into each game thinking we could win, and guys bought in. Each game felt like we got better."
Michael Blunden, with two goals, Blake Comeau and Chipchura also scored for Canada. Pogge, who set a Canadian record with three shutouts in one tournament, made 35 saves in his busiest night of the championship.
Evgeni Malkin, inexplicably voted tournament MVP by the media, was not a factor last night. Pogge made a nice glove save on him early on, and after that the talented Russian did not get a sniff.
Malkin had said if Russia played to its ability, it would "easily" beat Canada. But the Russians never got the chance.
"We read where the Russians had more talent," Ryan O'Marra said. "But we had more emotion, more passion and more intensity. We played Canadian hockey."
But the gold would not have been won without the guidance of coach Brent Sutter. It was his single-minded focus, which became a part of everything the players did, that led to the end result.
Sutter, who could get an NHL job coaching if he wanted it, said he is not looking ahead to next year yet. But Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson reiterated after the game that Sutter will be offered the job of coaching Canada's juniors for an unprecedented third consecutive season. Sutter, 12-0, is the only coach to win consecutive gold medals.
"At this level, it's about winning and his record speaks for itself," Nicholson said. "It would be tough not to offer it to him again. People would question my intelligence."