Canada's collapse a silver lining for hockey
MACKENZIE LIDDELL, Sports Network
|The comeback against Canada fell perfectly in line with Russia's identity at the World Junior Championship, having ripped the hearts out of Finland in the quarterfinal by scoring two goals with less than four minutes left in the game before winning it in overtime. (Craig Robertson/QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO -- What was witnessed Wednesday night in Buffalo, New York will go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Canadian hockey history.
But at the expense of the emotions of a nation and a team of teary-eyed teenagers, what happened Wednesday night is great for hockey.
Leading 3-0 heading into the third, it looked like Canada was strolling to its 16th gold medal in world junior history.
But unlike many Russian teams in the past that wilted in the face of adversity, this years rendition proved that heart-on-the-sleeve, gut-check hockey isn't solely a Canadian brand and stormed back with five unanswered goals to steal gold with a 5-3 victory.
The comeback against Canada fell perfectly in line with Russia's identity at the World Junior Championship, having ripped the hearts out of Finland in the quarterfinal by scoring two goals with less than four minutes left in the game before winning it in overtime.
Russia repeated the feat in the semis against Sweden, tying the game with just over a minute left on the clock and winning in a shootout.
But against Canada, no chance.
After dismantling the defending champion Americans and pre-tournament favorite in its semifinal match, Canada was in cruise control and all they had to do was show up, collect their medals and go home, or at least that was the expectations of many after Canada easily handled Russia 6-3 in game one.
Nobody could have predicted such a collapse in a game that was Canada's from the start.
Strangely, Canada's team seemed built to avoid such a collapse, passing on offensive upgrades in favor of grit, size, speed and determination.
But that's not an excuse. Offense was never a problem throughout the tournament, although more was certainly expected from a stacked defense and the goalie tandem of Mark Visentin and Olivier Roy.
Brayden Schenn, with a goal and an assist against Russia, tied Dale McCourt for the most points by a Canadian at a world juniors with 18.
Captain Ryan Ellis also set the new standard for blueliners, becoming the all- time leading scorer among defensemen with 25 points including the 10 he notched this year in Buffalo.
Canada's supposed lack of star power despite icing a team with 15 first-round picks and this years expected number one selection in Sean Couturier wasn't the issue and this team finished where many had predicted: with a silver medal, not experienced or skilled enough to overcome the U.S. juggernaut.
But instead of the Americans, it was the Russians who took home gold and that should be looked upon as a beacon of light in a competition that seemed to be turning into a two-team race.
Rivalries and revenge are important for international hockey and sport in general; the more the merrier.
Sweden provided some early-tournament entertainment and created sparks when coach Roger Ronnberg said the Czechs and Russians were bigger challenges than the Canadians after beating them 6-5 New Years Eve.
There were likely a few Canadian players and fans who would have loved a Canada-Sweden rematch in the final only to have them eat their words.
Coming into the tournament, the big story was whether Canada could upset the U.S. and reclaim junior hockey supremacy.
Next year in Calgary, Alberta, there will be more than one story.
Will Canada exact revenge on Russia after one of the biggest upsets in the country's history? Can Sweden back up their big talk? And as always, who will shine in the gold medal match between Canada and the U.S.?
Now that makes for some interesting hockey.