Added pressure for Canada

Losing junior final only makes Olympics more vital

By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY


Canada's Jordan Eberle stands with his silver medal after losing the world junior gold medal game to the U.S. on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

PHILADELPHIA -- From St. John's to Squamish, disbelieving Canadian hockey fans woke up yesterday sharing a common thought.

Yes, the 6-5 overtime loss to Team USA in the gold-medal game of the world junior championship on Tuesday was a gut-wrenching disappointment to be sure.

But at least there is the Olympics next month.

That is where Canada will gain it’s retribution. That is the tournament that really matters. That is when the gold will come.

Like it or not, such is the collective mindset of the Canadian public.

And Brian Burke knows it.

Burke, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic squad, already figured Team Canada had the weight of the world on its shoulders heading into Vancouver. Now, the U.S. juniors have added to it.

“The pressure on Canada was massive to begin with, especially playing an Olympics on home soil,” Burke said last night at the Wachovia Center, where his Maple Leafs were visiting the Philadelphia Flyers. “I think it’s even more now after the junior result.”

Burke said the gritty resolve of the American juniors in Saskatoon injected confidence throughout U.S. hockey.

“To be playing in Canada, giving up a lead to the heavy favourites, then to show the determination not to collapse and instead coming back like that, well, those kids deserve a lot of credit,” Burke said.

And while Burke and the Americans cheered, Canadian Olympian Chris Pronger understands that expectations of his team at the Winter Games next month now will be even more astronomical than they already were.

If that’s possible.

“With all the buildup to Vancouver that’s going on back home, I’m sure there will be more pressure on us after the junior result,” Pronger said. “That’s just part of it.

“In Canada, we expect to win. World juniors. Olympics. Minor-league tournaments. Intramural games. It doesn’t matter. That’s just the way it is.”

Pronger knows how much the Olympic experience has been a journey of highs and lows for Canadian players and fans the past 12 years.

In 1998, Canada lost a shootout to the Czech Republic, stripping it of a berth in the gold-medal game. Four years later, the Canadians snapped a 50-year Olympic drought by winning gold. Then, in 2006, came the low point when the team finished seventh.

“The worst was ’98,” Pronger said of his first Olympics. “To lose a chance to play for gold because of a shootout, that was so disappointing.”

Pronger and fellow Canadian world junior alumnus Mike Richards took their share of playful ribbing from some of their international Flyers teammates yesterday concerning the world junior outcome.

“It was a great game,” Pronger said. “It was another great comeback by the Canadians, but the U.S. team showed a lot of heart and perseverance. They easily could have crumbled.

“You could see the first few minutes of overtime, 4-on-4, nobody wanted to take a chance. What ultimately happened was that Canada took a chance, didn’t capitalize, and the U.S. came down the other way and scored.”

As for the Canadian Olympic team, it received some good news when doctors determined that Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron would be out just two weeks with a fractured right thumb, which he injured against the New York Rangers on Monday.

That means Flyers forward Jeff Carter, who was snubbed when the 23-man Canadian Olympic roster was announced one week ago, will have to wait for another injury to an existing player before potentially getting a shot.

Carter, a native of London, Ont., is one of the players told to be on notice in case roster spots opened because of injury.

But for now, all he can do is sit.

POLL