One slippery medal

PAUL FRIESEN, SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic -- Team Canada captain Karl Alzner is a pretty mild-mannered guy, but there he was climbing out of the penalty box and leading his team into the stands at the CEZ Arena.

This wasn't about letting some dough-head have it, though -- this was about sharing the World Junior Hockey Championship trophy with some of the estimated 4,000 fans that had cheered Canada on for the last 11 days.

It was the climactic moment in a delirious celebration after the unofficial home team salvaged victory from the brink of defeat in a 3-2 overtime thriller in the gold-medal final yesterday.

This year's hero was a 19-year-old from Ontario named Matt Halischuk, who did what all red-blooded hosers are taught to do, barely three minutes into overtime: he went to the net.

"I don't think I even saw it go in," Halischuk said of his game-winner. "I just saw the ref point to the back of the net. I don't even remember what I did. I don't think it's sunk in yet, what happened."

That's OK, there's a long flight home today on which to take it all in. That flight may have been unbearable, if not for Halischuk's impeccable timing.

This was one slippery gold medal, in the Canadians' hands one minute, out the next, like mercury from a thermometer.

"Oh, my goodness," were the first words from head coach Craig Hartsburg. "We had such a great start to the game. At the end of the second it should have been more than 2-0."

But that's what it was, thanks to goals by Brad Marchand and Claude Giroux -- exactly the same score this team led Sweden by early in the third period of the preliminary round. We all know what happened in that one.

'NOT AGAIN'

"We told ourselves it's not going to happen again," defenceman Drew Doughty said.

And then it did.

Five minutes in the Swedes got on the board, and it was as if someone dammed the Labe River and started it flowing in the opposite direction.

"Once we got on our heels, it was tough to get it stopped," Hartsburg said. "The Swedes just kept coming and coming."

With 38 ticks on the clock, they arrived, and Canada had blown the lead once more.

"Your heart just stops," is how Marchand described it.

"It was devastating," goaltender Steve Mason added. "We were right back where we started."

In overtime, it was white-knuckle time on the Canadian bench, as the faster Swedes took full advantage of the extra room of four-on-four play.

The longer this went, the worse it looked for Canada.

So Halischuk, with plenty of help from Shawn Matthias, made sure it didn't.

"We knew it probably wasn't going to be a pretty goal," Hartsburg said.

Then he quickly changed his mind: "I don't care if he stickhandled through eight guys, it was a great goal."

The damn burst, and the emotional reversal was almost too much to take. Giroux described the winner as "by far the best moment of my life."

Minutes earlier, he'd been living "probably the worst moment of my life."

Little wonder the celebration spilled into the stands, where this team had drawn much of its inspiration from.

The crowd of 7,480 was red-and-white by more than half, and had been making twice as much noise the whole time.

"We're not just doing this for ourselves and the coaches and the management, we're doing it for every person in the stands, every person back in Canada," Marchand said. "So we wanted to share that."

"The fans had just as much right to touch the cup as we did," added Doughty, named top defenceman in the tourney. "They're one of the biggest parts of our success. It's like playing a home game every night."

And there's nothing like winning the last game of the year, at home.

"There is no feeling like it," Doughty said. "The highlight of my life, without a doubt."


Videos

Photos