Bronze finish for Canada

Team Canada salutes the crowd after winning the bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey...

Team Canada salutes the crowd after winning the bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 5, 2012. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency)

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:56 AM ET

CALGARY - Officially, they were playing for bronze.

But deep down, they were really playing for the Maple Leaf.

Backstopped by a 27-save shutout performance by goaltender Mark Visentin, Team Canada beat Finland 4-0 in Thursday's bronze-medal game at the 2012 world junior hockey championship.

Forward Brett Connolly, selected as one of Canada's top three players for the tourney along with Mark Stone and Brandon Gormley, said it was important for his squad to finish strong.

"We didn't want to leave the tournament empty-handed," Connolly said. "I think we owed it to ourselves and the fans of Edmonton and Calgary and all of Canada to come out and play for each other and our country.

"It wasn't easy. Obviously, you want to play in that gold-medal game. But I'm proud of the guys for hanging in there.

"The guys played hard and showed a lot of pride."

Quinton Howden scored a pair, while Tanner Pearson and Mark Scheifele chipped in with singles for a Canadian team that managed to get refocused after dropping a 6-5 heartbreaker to Russia in the semifinal Tuesday night.

Goalie Sami Aittokallio made 40 stops for the Finns, but it was Visentin who became the crowd's sentimental favourite.

After dealing with last year's crushing loss to the Russians, Visentin had to battle for playing time throughout the tourney and then stood tall at the end.

He made an acrobatic stop two minutes into the final frame to preserve the goose-egg after a puck clanked off the crossbar and hit him in the back.

The puck was on its way in, but the Canadian 'tender, who earlier stopped Teemu Pulkkinen on a penalty shot, reached back and gloved it out of mid-air before it crossed the line.

Canadian teammate Freddie Hamilton said he had to watch the replay on the Jumbotron a few times before he could believe it.

"At first, everyone on the bench thought it was just caught up in his pads or something," Hamilton said.

"But to see the way it went off his shoulder and right into his glove, it was pretty cool."

The Saddledome crowd, which was somewhat subdued for the bronze-medal tilt, came alive with a minute left with a loud standing ovation and chants of 'Go Canada Go.'

Canada forward Brendan Gallagher, who acts like he's never had a bad day in his life, said he took a minute to soak in the atmosphere.

"We were all on the bench, and it was just time for us to relax and take in the moment," Gallagher said. "It was pretty special. We were all hugging each other.

"These are memories we'll remember for the rest of our lives. I wouldn't want to go through it with any other group of guys."

The (Barrie) Colts Connection -- Pearson and Scheifele -- connected for Canada's first two goals.

Pearson, the OHL's leading scorer, picked up his first goal of the tournament on a powerplay midway through the opening period.

Scheifele put a puck toward the net that Pearson redirected past Aittokallio.

Then it was Pearson's turn to set up his linemate with a nifty feed from behind the net early in the middle stanza. Scheifele picked the top corner for his third of the tourney.

Pulkkinen was awarded a penalty shot after Visentin dropped his stick during a wild scramble.

But the Canadian goaltender was up to the challenge and emphatically swept the puck away after making the save.

Howden made it 3-0 with another powerplay marker before the period was up, taking a rebound and sliding it five-hole on Aittokallio. The Moose Jaw Warriors sniper rounded out the scoring with 2:25 left in the game, tapping in a gimme feed from Mark Stone.

That gave the Canadians a 4-0 advantage, of which they wrapped up for the bronze medal.

scott.fisher@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNScottFisher


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