January 5, 2012
Canada embraces bronze
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
CALGARY - In the end, the medal mattered.
When it was over, it was loud and proud for the Canadian team -- the first from this country since the adoption of the medal-round format not to play in a world junior gold-medal game at home.
It didn't feel like it mattered in the Saddledome for the longest time Thursday afternoon, with Canada out of the gold-medal game for the first time in 11 tournaments.
There was no atmosphere at all in the beginning. None.
Sadly, the feel prior to the bronze-medal game against Finland wasn't much different than it was for pre-tournament game against Finland.
The fans in Calgary had made Tuesday's Canada-Russia semifinal game feel like the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, but there was no noise at all after first 20 seconds of the bronze-medal match. Only one lame try at "Go Canada Go," about 10 seconds in. That was it. And it died quickly.
But after the Canadian kids took a 2-0 lead and fans watched Mark Visentin come up big on a penalty shot, it started to change. And when Visentin made a circus save, swatting the puck off the goal line out of the air behind his back to preserve the shutout and a 4-0 win, loud and proud was finally achieved.
As the final seconds clicked off the clock and the 14th consecutive year with Canada winning a medal was completed, the crowd was finally as loud to end this game as it was to start the Russian game two nights earlier.
"It was a little different in this building, starting this game than before the Russia game," said Brandon Gormley of the Moncton Wildcats.
"Everyone was really excited for Canada-Russia. But as this game wore on, they got excited for this, too.
"It was not a game we wanted to play in. But it was something to be proud of in the dressing room. You want to go out with a win and on a high note. At the end of the day, we take away a medal."
As Canadian players were being presented their bronze medals, the crowd was standing and still cheering.
It wasn't gold. But it was something.
In the end Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the Canadian dressing room to tell them that.
"He said how proud of us he was. Stuff like that. We all know he's a huge hockey fan," said Gormley.
"It was a bittersweet thing for all of us but it was nice to have the Prime Minister in our room to tell us that," he said.
"It was not easy trying to get up for the game," said Edmonton Oil King Mark Pysyk. "It's not what we came here for. But the fans in Alberta made it such a special experience for all of us. In the end, we wanted to win it for them as much as anybody," added the only Albertan on the team.
"Guys had to step up and play for each other," said Brett Connolly of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's not the medal we came here to win, but we'll take it," added the forward, one of four players who allowed gold to slip from their grasp last year in Buffalo.
The medal, clearly, will be cherished by Visentin more than anybody.
"We were really happy for Mark after what he had gone through at last year's tournament," said coach Don Hay.
"It was great to see him play so well. Overall, through the game, our best player was Mark Visentin."
The goalie said his behind-the-back save put an exclamation mark on the moment.
"I wanted to have a big game and have a lot of fun," he said. "Putting into words what that save meant. I can't explain my emotion. That meant a lot to me."
But this was a team win, a group of guys who decided they wanted to win their last game of the most ballistic world junior in history in their own country.
"There was a really empty feeling here (Wednesday), knowing we didn't have a chance to win," said Hay. "Everybody is disappointed because our focus was the gold medal. But we came here today to win because people showed us how much they cared, and how much it mattered to the fans of Canada."