Questions linger after Canada's loss

Team Canada's Brayden Schenn after Russia's come-from-behind 5-3 gold medal victory over Team...

Team Canada's Brayden Schenn after Russia's come-from-behind 5-3 gold medal victory over Team Canada in Buffalo, January 5, 2010. (Mark Webster/QMI AGENCY)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

BUFFALO — Big defenceman Jared Cowen, now an unfortunate two-time world junior silver medallist, said it best before the Canadians broke from selection camp in Etobicoke last month.

When you win, it feels like everything you did was right.

And when you lose, you question everything you did along the way.

There is doubt and disbelief in Hockey Canada’s national junior program after the five-goal, third-period meltdown at HSBC Arena Wednesday night.

Before the tournament started, everyone lamented the lack of finish on head coach Dave Cameron’s big, energetic team.

Scoring goals wasn’t the problem. Preventing them when it mattered most proved their downfall.

This is the second straight year that the gold-medal game hung in the balance and the Canadians didn’t get it done.

This was supposed to be the mission to reclaim the gold.

Instead, that’ll be the motto again in Calgary and Edmonton for the 2012 tournament, only that Canadian team will carry the burden of two bitter defeats with it to Alberta.

Where did this Buffalo breakdown go wrong?

Everyone shares part of the blame.

The players stopped playing their system late in the second period, and never re-started. Not even the physically impressive trio of Ryan Johansen, Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno could get the puck deep and re-establish dominance down low.

But the Canadians had to know the Russian surge was coming.

They witnessed the comeback against the Finns. They saw what happened to the Swedes.

And they still didn’t have a good enough contingency plan to halt the uprising to get the pendulum swinging back in their favour.

They just became the latest and greatest victim.

Cameron, as a coach, had a couple of tricks at his disposal to try to stop the bleeding.

The second intermission, the players say, they didn’t notice any cockiness or belief the game was in the bag.

“We knew we had to play right till the end,” said Kassian, who like fellow Sabres pick Foligno, will be haunted by this loss every time they walk in the building as pros.

Two days earlier, they broke the favoured American team’s spirit.

But they couldn’t do it to the Russians, who begin every description of their own team with the word “character”.

Cameron burned his timeout after Russian captain Vladimir Tarasenko tied the game 7:29 into the third. That turned out to be too little, too late.

He should’ve used it after the quick second Russian goal by Maxim Kitsyn, the Los Angeles pick whose junior rights are held by — who else — Cameron’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.

The Canadian coach said he never once considered yanking starting goalie Mark Visentin, who struggled so mightily when the tide turned.

Stack up that against what the guy on the other bench did.

Russian coach Valeri Bragin made a goalie change, which often gets the attention of a struggling team.

Suddenly, Igor Bobkov, who gave up six to the Canadians on Boxing Day, was back in net for the first time in 11 days, and became one of the most surprising winners in tournament history.

He held off the Canadians’ push for a fourth goal.

He is today, in his own words, the new Jack Campbell, who came on in relief in Saskatoon to beat the Canadians last year.

These Russian kids are now national heroes, unforgettable champions who not only won in thrilling fashion, but beat a team with the backing of 98% of the people in the NHL rink.

Bobkov called his mom and dad in Surgut right after the win. He said his mom cried, she was so happy for him and his team.

Bragin said he’s already been contacted by important government-types back home.

It’s funny how quickly things can change.

Russia’s veteran players were labeled chokers for their disastrous quarterfinal overtime defeat at the hands of the Swiss last year. Getting torched by Jordan Eberle’s clutch goal with five seconds left two years ago in Ottawa didn’t sit that well with the federation, either.

That’s all forgotten.

This isn’t: the fourth-place Swedes openly indicated they were unimpressed with Canada after beating them in the playoff shootout.

Surely, after what happened in the final, they had a point.

Right now, it’s the Canadian brass looking in the mirror. Did they pick the right players? Was the correct philosophy in place? And what could’ve been done to stop the train from careening so far, so quickly, off the rails?

As Cowen said, that’s what happens when you lose. The questions start flying.

But when you win, you just sing and hug and party the way the Russians did at their hotel after the game.

You never see flaws in the reflection of a gold medal.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ryanpyette


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