BUFFALO — So much for a smooth path to the gold-medal game.
Shoddy goaltending and a relentless Swedish attack on New Year’s Eve conspired to take the fun out of the 2011 world junior championship for Canada, at least for now.
But the Canadian players, who will not practise on New Year’s Day and won’t have media duties, weren’t broken up about the fact they have to play in a quarter-final on Sunday.
“This is going to take 30 minutes to get out of our system,” defenceman Erik Gudbranson said defiantly after a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden, as swarms of reporters descended on the players in the mixed zone at HSBC Arena.
“It’s not like they are awarding medals today. We are going to be fine. It’s not like we are worried about it, and it would have been nice to have (Sunday) off, but it happens.”
Canada will have to get better goaltending, whether it is from Olivier Roy or Mark Visentin, on Sunday. It’s that simple.
And the defencemen, who constantly had Swedes in their face, will have to make decisions with more authority.
Recent history suggests that playing in the quarter-final is not a huge impediment to winning gold. The Americans did it last year, and Canada did it in 2008 in the Czech Republic.
Still, having a bye to the semis, as Sweden now has, would have been preferable. The Canadians just made it a bit harder on themselves.
For the few Sabres fans who were in the building: Enjoy Marcus Foligno when he eventually makes it to the NHL. Hard to believe this kid had no Hockey Canada experience until the selection camp started. Foligno, a fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2009, was a forechecking machine, running over Swedes on seemingly every shift. Canada’s first goal is not scored by Sean Couturier unless Foligno drives hard to the net, which is what happened. And to think that big Zack Kassian, whose two-game suspension is now over, is a Sabres prospect as well. Said Foligno: “I want people to be excited about my play, to create that in Buffalo.” ... The baby-faced Ryan Johansen doesn’t play like one. The force with which he checked Adam Larsson into the Sweden net was scary and caused goalie Robin Lehner to come out to the blue line after the play had been whistled dead. Canada coach Dave Cameron was steamed, presumably because there was no penalty to Lehner for leaving the crease ... Speaking of Lehner, the netminder conjured memories of Tommy Salo when he waved at Quinton Howden’s harmless shot in the first period and the puck went in off Lehner’s glove. Salo twice was an NHL star but he will forever be remembered for allowing a fluke goal against Belarus in the 2002 Winter Olympics, costing the Swedes a shot at gold ... Big reason why Curtis Hamilton scored with one second left in the first period: He was paying attention. Hamilton banged the puck in after it bounced straight out after hitting the end glass. Neither Lehner nor the Swedish defenceman reacted in time. Johansen took the shot from just inside the blue line when the fans, aware time had almost expired, screamed at him to shoot ... Canada defenceman Dylan Olsen, somehow, has found the time during the tournament to sign an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
From the hash marks
Canada gave up 41 shots on goal, and that would have been much higher had the defencemen in front of Roy not been adept at getting their sticks in front of shots to deflect them over the glass. Unfortunately, the Swedes’ fourth goal appeared to go off the stick of Erik Gudbranson. The puck then fluttered over the shoulder of Roy and into the net ... Kristen Cameron, a niece of Cameron, attended the game. Kristen Cameron, 25, was paralyzed from the chest down in September when she was cycling and was hit by a drunk driver in Erie County, Pa. ... Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson has arrived from Calgary, and next week he will be joined at the tournament by other hockey boldface including Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Rene Fasel and Donald Fehr ... Before Kassian returns to the lineup, he should watch tape of Foligno. The latter was able to use his big body to rub Swedes out of the play but did so without taking penalties. It’s a skill that Kassian has to master ... One troubling aspect of the loss for Canada is that teams now know the mighty Canadians can be beaten this year. Canada had it fairly easy through its first three games, but could not handle the pace that Sweden set, and for the first time in this tournament, Canada did not dictate the play. And with all the big body-checks being thrown by the Canadians, not a one intimidated the Swedes. They kept coming and coming with no fear. “We don’t think in those terms at all,” Sweden coach Roger Ronnberg said. “We don’t want to be on our heels. We want to be on the attack all the time.”