Tough for Team Canada to say good-bye
WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
|Team Canada stands arm in arm as while the Canadian anthem is played after winning the bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 5, 2012. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - Dougie Hamilton showed up with one brother.
After Thursday's third-place showdown at the Saddledome, the Team Canada blueliner felt like he saying goodbye to a bunch of others.
"I think everyone was pretty sad afterwards," said Hamilton, a bronze medal dangling around his neck after a 4-0 victory over Team Finland. "Guys were hugging each other. It's actually pretty funny because you're playing against guys (in Canadian Hockey League action) and you're trying to hit them and hurt them. But here, you're basically best friends.
"It becomes a family, and it's hard to break that up."
Although the latest instalment of the world junior tournament wrapped up with a gold-medal matchup between Russia and Sweden, Team Canada didn't disappoint in their final skate at the Saddledome, a spirited win against the Finns.
Within the next of couple of days, they'll rejoin their major-junior or college squads.
And they're not heading home empty-handed, even if a bronze medal isn't exactly what they had in mind when they arrived in Calgary in mid-December for selection camp.
"It goes by really quick. It's a really intense time together and then, all of a sudden, it's all over," said Team Canada head coach Don Hay. "You're going to remember all the good things, as far as practises and team-building and the friendships that you created here "¦ You remember how you came together and what your goal was and how hard you worked to try to get to that goal.
"There's a lot of good memories here, and there's a bit of disappointment also."
Hay coached the national junior team to gold just up the road in Red Deer in 1995, even before the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) introduced the medal round.
Team Canada forwards Brett Connolly, Quinton Howden and Jaden Schwartz and goaltender Mark Visentin had also been through this whole rigmarole before.
They were members of last year's squad in Buffalo, a team that will forever be remembered for blowing a three-goal lead to the Russians during a stunning third-period collapse in the gold-medal game.
The defining moment for the current group will undoubtedly be a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to Russia in Tuesday's semifinal at the Saddledome, which snapped Canada's streak of 10 consecutive appearances in the tournament finale.
Despite an admirable comeback effort, the hosts couldn't erase all of a five-goal deficit and settled for a shot at bronze instead. If nothing else, Howden hopes hockey fans will remember how hard they fought despite a seemingly insurmountable lead for the Russians.
"We were close. We never had any quit," Howden said. "Some people counted us out right from the beginning, and obviously people were counting us out in that Russia game, but we never had any quit. We regrouped, and made sure we came back with a strong effort (against Finland)."
While many wondered whether Team Canada could get motivated for a bronze-medal game in a country that expects nothing less than gold, Connolly didn't have any doubts about what he referred to as "one of the closest teams I've ever played on."
"We had a lot of character," Connolly said. "We competed night-in, night-out. We gave ourselves a chance to win every night. You can't ask for much more than that."
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