After every game, there are people who will say about the winning team, "they wanted it more." It's one of the oldest cliches in the book and not always true. However, it's hard to argue that this phrase does not apply in the case of Russia using an unbelievable third period to stun Team Canada (and the mostly Canadian crowd at HSBC Arena in Buffalo) and win gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships.There's no other way to describe what happened. Team Canada hit the ice ready to claim their 6th gold in 7 years and wipe out last year's memory of losing to their brethren from south of the border. They scored two very strong goals in the first period, courtesy of Captain Ryan Ellis and Carter Ashton (a WHL'er from the Tri City Americans). Brayden Schenn tallied another score early in the second period after a strong flurry of play down at the Russian end of the ice, causing the coach to yank goaltender Dmitri Shikin and put Igor Bobkov between the pipes. But although Bobkov kept the goals out, Russian forwards could not find a way past Canadian netminder Mark Visentin. By the time the two teams hit the locker rooms for second intermission, Canada's boys were on a high, knowing just 20 minutes separated them from redemption. Russian coach Valeri Bragin had other ideas.
Only the players and coaching staff know what took place in the Russian locker room during the second intermissions, but whatever happened, a different team returned to the ice for the third period. And they got to work. Artemi Panarin and Maxim Kitsyn scored eleven seconds apart to jump-start the Russian attack. Captain Vladimir Tarasenkov tied things up five minutes later, and you didn't have to be inside HSBC Arena to feel the momentum change. Team Canada's play turned more defensive and desperate. Russia's play turned more focused and deliberate. And fans knew, if the Canadians did not reign in their emotions and regain their focus, the Russians would score again. They did. With less than five minutes left in regulation, Artemi Panarin scored to put Russia ahead, 4-3. They sealed the win just under three minutes later on a goal by Nikita Dvurechenski. The Canadians yanked Visentin and added an extra attacker, but it was too late. The clock wound down and Russia's bench erupted in screams of joy, while Canada's bench sagged with the heartbreaking weight of losing gold for the second year in a row.
We can spend hours analyzing just what happened. I don't know exactly what happened. I just saw the Canadian team deflate after Russia tied the game. Other written accounts say that Canada couldn't recover from the two back to back goals early in the third, but I disagree. Being up 3-2 still gives a team hope that they can dig their heels in and protect that one goal lead. But when a team takes emotion out of its game like Russia did in the third period, it's like playing against robots who keep coming, no matter what you throw at them. By the time Tarasenkov tied the game, Russia would not be denied and Canada just didn't know how to handle it. And they couldn't recover.
USA wins bronze in decisive fashion
Team USA battled for bronze earlier in the day, against a top-seeded Swedish team that fell to the Russians in a stunning shootout upset. The reigning gold medalists were also smarting from their defeat at the hands of the Canadians. Both teams hit the ice with big chips on their shoulders and battled to a scoreless tie in the first period. The Swedes struck first in the second. Oscar Lindberg took advantage of a miscue by US goaltender Jack Campbell. Team USA responded almost immediately, using a power play advantage to tie things up on a goal by Chris Kreider. Drew Shore put the Americans up 2-1 early in the third period. Goaltender Jack Campbell and the team held the Swedish attack off and Nick Bjugstad seemed to put the game out of reach when he scored late in the third. Jesper Fasth showed that Sweden was still very much in the game, when he grabbed his own rebound and scored, bringing his team back to within one goal. But Team USA would not be denied a second time. Chris Kreider scored with less than two minutes left in regulation to put the US up 4-2. Sweden could find no way around that, and closed out the tournament in fourth place; a bitter pill to swallow for a team that was undefeated heading into the medal round.
Team USA players may be feeling bitter that their medals are bronze instead of gold, but these guys accomplished quite a feat, winning back to back medals for the first time in the history of the World Juniors.The powers that be at USA Hockey must be feeling proud of the strong showing their boys have had of late. Whatever they're doing in their development program must be working.
WJC Honors; All Star Team
The pride of the Brandon Wheat Kings skated away with the tournament's top honor. Brayden Schenn was selected the WJC's Most Valuable Player. Schenn tore up the ice in his seven games, scoring 8 goals and 10 assists for 18 points. He was also named the tournament's best forward. Team USA netminder Jack Campbell was named the tournament's best goaltender for the second year in a row. Team Canada Captain Ryan Ellis was named best defenseman.
Here's a look at the WJC's All Star Team, as selected by media who covered the tournament:
Goaltender: Jack Campbell - Team USA
Defensemen: Ryan Ellis - Team Canada, Dmitri Orlov - Team Russia
Forwards: Brayden Schenn - Team Canada, Ryan Johansen - Team Canada, Yvgeni Kuznetsov - Team Russia
So, how did the tournament compare to your expectations/predictions? While I had Canada playing for (and winning) the gold, I had them in a rematch against USA, not Russia. I also had Switzerland as the surprise favorite for bronze. This year's tournament has given me a lot to think about and a lot to watch. How about you?