Playing the blame game for juniors' collaspe

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:43 PM ET

The shot by Ryan Ellis couldn’t have been placed better.

With Canada ahead 3-0 on Wednesday night against Russia in the gold-medal game at the 2011 world junior championship in Buffalo, Ellis, the team captain, let one of his blistering slap shots fly during a power play.

Zack Kassian, parked just to the right of Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov, managed to deflect the shot, and it was heading straight for the open net behind Bobkov ... until it hit the post and caromed into the corner.

Had Kassian scored, Canada would have had a 4-0 lead. Bobkov, who minutes earlier had come in to relieve Dmitri Shikin, we’re thinking, would have been shaken. This was a guy who had been replaced as the starter after just one game in the tournament. And Bobkov, who looks like he could spend a little bit of time on the treadmill, has won one game in eight appearances this season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Bobkov, for goodness’ sake, has beaten Canada and the Peterborough Petes in 2010-11. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

This is the point of Kassian’s almost-goal: There was no one play that killed Canada. There were many. The collapse against the U.S. in the 2004 world junior will be remembered for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s bank shot into his own net off teammate Braydon Coburn. That was the touchstone play of the gold-medal final, and one that junior hockey fans across the country won’t forget.

Ten years from now, fans will discuss the collapse as a whole, not so much as the fault of one play or one player.

Canada coach Dave Cameron said he could start to see the momentum slip away with approximately six minutes left in the second period. Canada’s power play failed to generate several solid scoring chances, and the Russians’ skill and speed started to become a factor. As much as some people want to call the Canadians chokers, remember that the Russians weren’t exactly a bunch of castoffs who didn’t belong in the gold-medal game.

Because Cameron saw some things that were alarming, he talked to his team immediately in the dressing room after the start of the second intermission, rather than let them stew. Having a longer verbal meeting with them then, when he told them to relax and remember what had got them to that point, was one reason why Cameron did not call a timeout after Russia scored two goals in 13 seconds to make it 3-2. Cameron called the timeout at 3-3, but by then, the horse was out of the barn.

Canada could not punch back against a Russia team that had pulled the comeback trick against Finland and Sweden.

Mark Visentin didn’t make the saves that were required. The defencemen, not having seen speed like the Russians had at any point in the tournament, started backing up and didn’t support Visentin. And if we’re going to name Visentin, then let’s recall that of the defencemen, Ellis, Tyson Barrie and Jared Cowen were on the ice for two Russian goals each.

The forwards, for whom forechecking, cycling and puck control along the boards had come so easily in other games, were befuddled by a group of Russians that put a new meaning into resiliency.

Forwards Brayden Schenn, Casey Cizikas, Quinton Howden, Louis Leblanc, Curtis Hamilton and Cody Eakin were on the ice for two Russia goals each. Schenn was the MVP of the tournament, Eakin perhaps the smartest Canadian forechecker. Was it singularly their fault that Canada gave up five goals in the third period? Of course not.

As with any loss on the international level, especially one this devastating, there will be plenty of navel-gazing. But if Cameron did not bring the “right players,” then may we ask which defenceman or forward or goalie in this country could have stopped what the Russians were doing? Goal-scoring was not a problem in Buffalo. Goaltending was not either, minus the performance by Olivier Roy in the New Year’s Eve game versus Sweden. Character? Lots of it. Every forward had the ability to play both ways.

But every player learned the harshest lesson when they collectively stopped doing the little things. For that, they will always have silver to remind them.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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