Canadian heart and soul wasn't enough

Mark Stone hangs his head after Team Canada's loss in their World Junior Hockey Championship...

Mark Stone hangs his head after Team Canada's loss in their World Junior Hockey Championship semifinal match against Team Russia at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 3, 2012. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

CALGARY - It was a team which, in many ways, won the hearts of a nation in battling back to stage a near miracle.

But coming back from 6-1 to create a frantic finish, in the end, was still a loss. A 6-5 loss was still a defeat at home in a world junior semifinal.

When it was over, the eyes of the Canadian teenagers were wet and there were lumps in their throats.

"It is so disappointing," said Brandon Gormley, one of the heroes of the comeback that almost was.

"We came here to get that gold medal and it's not going to happen. That's what we tried to do. But we didn't do it. This is not what we came here for."

They were all beating themselves up to some extent, but nobody more than goalie Scott Wedgewood.

"The job of the goaltender is to stop the puck," he said.

"Unfortunately, I didn't get the job done."

For four players on this team, including Brett Connolly who returned from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL to try make up for what happened last year, it was in some ways worse.

"It's a terrible feeling," he said. "It was Canada-Russia. It was a game you dream to play. And it's tough to swallow. It sucks. We made mistakes you just can't make. I don't know how to explain it. It just sucks. And then to come back and get that close to winning it. It sucks."

However you view what happened this night, the bottom line is for the first time since the world junior went to the medal-round format, Canada won't be in a gold medal game at home.

After 10 consecutive years of being involved in the gold medal game, Canada will play for bronze here Thursday afternoon.

Calgarians bought tickets for 21 of the 31 games of the tournament in anticipation of getting the big prize -- Team Canada in gold medal game.

All that's left for the country that cares only for gold, is an afternoon game against Finland for bronze before the Russians and Swedes go for gold in prime time.

In 2000 in Sweden and 2001 in Russia, Canada ended up in the same situation and bounced back to win the bronze. It was in 1998, in Finland, after winning five consecutive gold, that Canada last failed to win a medal at all.

The only thing worse than playing for bronze is not winning it.

"I think every game you play is worth playing for," said coach Don Hay. "Our guys respect the fans and each other and I expect them to play hard for each other."

It had been a sensational scene to start the evening, with the sea-of-red Saddledome crowd beginning the first "Go Canada Go" chant 10 minutes before the opening faceoff, the seats already already full and the anticipation for a Canada-Russia classic in the air. Almost all jerseys in the crowd featured the maple leaf, not the not flaming C.

There was so much pressure and coach Hay perhaps hinted it was a factor in the front end of the game.

"We didn't get off to the start we usually get off to. Maybe we were a little nervous to start with," he said.

"We had good starts all tournament. After it was 2-0, we made it 2-1 but then we gave up two easy goals. I'm really happy with the way we battled back. The fans got into it. We played better. We played like we have all the tournament. But we couldn't find a way. When you get down 6-1, it's a long road."

It wasn't like the Canadians didn't show up for the game, though. They were winning most of the little races to the puck early and had a large edge in five-on-five territorial play in the first period. But for the first time in the entire tournament, Canada found itself not scoring the first goal and not being either even or ahead in a game.

When Canada was down 2-0 there were thoughts of revenge in reverse from last year's gold medal game.

In the end, despite final shots on goal of 56-24 for Canada, the heart and emotion which usually means so much to Canadian teams in these games, was too little, too late. Talent and skill won the day as flashy Evgeni Kuznetsov and Nail Yakupov put their names on the game, and Canadians were left to wonder what this game would have looked like with the six pack of world junior eligible players who are in the NHL.

Yakupov forecast the events of the evening the night before.

"We have everything. We are the best team in the world junior. We don't need fans," he said.

He Nailed it.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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