This win even sweeter

TED WYMAN

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Manitoba has a strong and storied history with the World Junior Hockey Championship, hosting it twice and turning the 2005 event in North Dakota into a smashing success.

People in these parts take a lot of pride in the national junior team every year. It's an opportunity to get behind a team in a fashion that has been possible all too rarely since the Jets left a decade ago.

All that said, this year's tournament was something extra special.

The Canadians won gold for the third straight year yesterday, dumping the Russians yet again and putting smiles on the faces of hockey fans from coast to coast.

In Manitoba, fans were puffing their chests with even more enthusiasm, thanks to the efforts of local stars Jonathan Toews and Darren Helm, who made a tremendous impact on the tournament.

Winnipeg's Toews was an absolute star, scoring three goals, including a beauty in the final. He also had one of the most memorable five-minute stretches in hockey history on Wednesday, scoring three times in a shootout to give Canada a dramatic semifinal win over the United States.

At a time when many players would be nervous about just getting a shot off, Toews coolly picked corners and made American goalie Jeff Frazee look silly. Just remember, if he misses even once there's a pretty good chance Canada goes home with no better than a bronze medal.

Helm, the St. Andrews product who was playing for the Selkirk Fishermen of the Keystone Junior B Hockey League two seasons ago, used speed and hustle to turn more than a few heads and chipped in a pair of goals early in the tournament.

Both players will return home to a hero's welcome tonight -- their plane lands in Winnipeg at 9:30 -- and they deserve it.

After all, Canada wins a lot of world junior championships. Manitobans leading the way is a little more rare.

F-BOMB: Toews was brilliant throughout the tournament, but he may need to polish up his media skills before he joins the NHL. In the post-game interview on TSN, Toews assessed his team's performance thusly: "We did a f---ing great job." Hopefully his mother was hiding in the bathroom for that one ... A fact made painfully obvious by this year's world junior tournament: International hockey rules suck. Undefeated Canada not getting the last line change in a semifinal against the 1-1-1-1 Americans was ridiculous ... Great line from TSN's Gord Miller during yesterday's gold medal game: "We'd like to take this opportunity to wish a speedy recover to the thousands of Canadians who called in sick to work today." ... Great news for opponents of the Dallas Stars: If Patrik Stefan ever gets a chance to participate in a shootout, they don't need a goalie ... Big news in the baseball world this week came from a study suggesting Mark McGwire's balls were juiced. And all this time, we thought he was shooting steroids into his arm ... A co-operative and chatty Mike Tyson apparently admitted to frequent cocaine use after getting busted with two bags of white powder in Arizona recently. In fact, police were surprised that he talked their ears off, instead of biting them off ... Nick Saban is out as coach of the Miami Dolphins, and we've got two words for owner Wayne Huizenga as he embarks on a search for a new sideline general: Ricky Williams ... Saban certainly endeared himself to the Miami fans by saying at least six times that he was not leaving to take a job at Alabama and then leaving to take a job at Alabama. The Crimson Tide apparently like coaches with all the credibility of O.J. Simpson.

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QUICK HITS: Let's start off with PGA player Fred Couples, telling the Associated Press about the state of his golf game heading into a news season: "I'm playing as well as I've ever played, except for the years I played better." ... Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke apparently doesn't much care for Vancouver Canucks broadcaster Neil Macrae, as evidenced by his recent comment in the Vancouver Sun: "Spread a little Preparation H over Neil, and I guarantee you that he'll disappear." ... From Steve Rosenbloom of ChicagoSports.com: "The murder rate in Chicago rose last year. Police attribute the increase to drug feuds, gang wars and clubbing with Tank Johnson." ... Another from Rosenbloom: "Police seized about 550 rounds of ammunition when they raided Tank Johnson's house last month, according to court documents. The ammo was stashed in Johnson's garage, basement, bedroom and kitchen. Whoa, guess we know who wins the fight for the last piece of cake." ... Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, on two big holdups to Barry Bonds officially signing a new contract with the Giants: "How many of Barry's Jiffy Lube attendants will be allowed clubhouse access, and whether the guard assigned to keep reporters away from Bonds' locker will pack heat." ... Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, on Texas Tech playing Frank Sinatra's My Way after Bob Knight broke the record for coaching victories: "Apparently they decided against playing Ted Nugent's Stranglehold." ... Bernie Lincicome of the Rocky Mountain News, on the fact that there is no drug testing on the PGA Tour: "But if there were, judging from most of the waistlines, the first test should be for lasagna." ... T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart partying it up with Britney Spears during his alma mater's recruiting day: "What a better way to recruit than to remind every young man in America -- you come to USC and one day you too might be nuzzling a pop star gone wild after impregnating one of the school's basketball players and dumping her for Paris Hilton. 'Sign me up, coach.' ... New York Islanders centre Mike York, to the New York Post, on having a concussion: "It's the worst. You can't ice your brain." ... Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler on being from Santa Claus, Ind.: "It's like any other small town, except some idiot decided to name it Santa Claus." ... David Moore of the Dallas Morning News on Shaquille O'Neal being first in NBA Eastern Conference all-star voting despite having played only four games: "We like the Big Fella too, but come on. Are you the same people lining up at the box office for Rocky Balboa?" ... From Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: "Golfers (Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa) are The Associated Press male and female athletes of the year for the first time since 1945, surprising some analysts who were unaware golfers are athletes." ... And finally, one more from Cote: "In baseball, the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. broke his hand in an accident at home, after which baseball, in a quiet ceremony, renamed its disabled list in Griffey's honour."

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READER RANT

It was interesting reading your column regarding an NHL team coming to the MTS Centre. I believe that Mr. Chipman has no plans and never has had plans for an NHL team to come back to Winnipeg.

The day the three levels of government gave the True North group a big bucket of money and major tax incentives lasting for a minimum of 25 years was the final nail in the coffin for the Jets. He's not going to buy an NHL team himself and why share the wealth with an owner/partner. Of course he will say he's interested in an NHL team to come here but he would be crazy not to. Actions speak louder than words and his lack of action when it comes to the Penguins moving screams "Gotcha Suckers" to all Jet fans out there.

Face facts, the MTS Centre was built for an AHL team and Winnipeggers have to live with the fact that our hockey team is being run by the Vancouver Canucks. I understand that Mario has been invited to Kansas City to talk. Why don't you ask Mark when Mario is coming here for a visit? Don't hold your breath waiting for an answer. As long as the people in this city support the Moose, you will never see an NHL team here. Period.

Rick MacPherson

We wouldn't go that far.

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TRIVIA TIME

This week's winner will receive Shootout Hockey Trivia by Don Weekes.

The first person to phone in or e-mail the correct answer will win. Please leave your name and phone number.

QUESTION: Who is the only Canadian to win three straight World Junior Hockey Championship gold medals?

LAST WEEK'S QUESTION: Which two players share the NHL record for points in a playoff game, with eight?

ANSWER: Mario Lemieux and Patrik Sundstrom.

LAST WEEK'S WINNER: Kevin Ritchie.

E-mail responses to thehitparade@wpgsun.com or phone 632-2794


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