For the first time since 1998, Team Canada does not medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships after falling to Team Russia 6-5 in overtime.
The Canadians were coming off a disappointing performance in the semi-finals when they were derailed by the Americans in a 5-1 rout. However, if anything was to be built on coming out of that loss, oddly enough, it was the goaltending situation. Or so we thought.
Jordan Binnington came into the semi-final game in relief of Malcolm Subban, who had been hung out to dry after four unanswered goals to start the game. Yet Binnington played nothing short of spectacular. He made multiple athletic stops including a breakaway save cold off the bench. It went unquestioned that Binnington, in his only given chance, had earned his start to play for a medal.
However, before Canadians could open their eyes in the early morning hours and tune in, Russia had scored its first goal. Just over a minute later, Canada took a penalty. Nail Yakupov was left open at the side of the net and took a cross-ice pass which he buried. Less than five minutes into the game, Team Canada was down by two and the place was rockin`. It was deja vu all over again for Canada.
Canada made good on a power play, though, just two minutes later as team captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins cut the lead in half. But before the Canadians could start feeling good about the game, Kirill Dyakov put the Russians back up by two on a point shot just 56 seconds later. Head coach Steve Spott yanked Binnington without hesitation after the third goal, which came just eight minutes into the game. So much for the goaltending controversy.
Late in the period, Canada was given another power play and Jonathan Huberdeau capitalized. It appeared the momentum was shifting heading into the locker room.
Would you believe it, the Russians took another penalty early in the second frame and Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Mark Scheifele slipped the puck past Saskatoon Blades net-minder Andrei Makarov. The game was tied up at threes. Canada and Russia would exchange goals later in the period and the game was tied 4-4 at the second intermission.
One minute into the third, Yakupov would notch his second of the game to reclaim the Russian lead. And halfway through the period, Team Canada would steal the momentum on a goal by Brett Ritchie. It was the first even-strength goal of the game for the Canadians, as they finished the game 4-5 on the power play. The contest was headed for overtime.
Team Canada had finished the third period strong and had multiple scoring chances in the early-going of the extra frame. Dougie Hamilton found himself with the game on his stick, Makarov helplessly on his bottom, but couldn`t get the puck past Mikhail Grigorenko.
Just moments later, Valeri Nichushkin went wide on Ryan Murphy and beat him to cut through the crease and put the puck past Subban. The arena erupted and Team Russia poured off the bench, some taunting the Canadians as they skated by. Team Canada looked on in disbelief.
The group often referred to as the `Dream Team` thanks to the NHL lockout, would go home empty-handed. This marked the third straight year the Canadians fell to the Russians to determine their fate.
A lot can be said for the heart the Canadian players showed in coming back so many times during the course of the game and nearly winning it. However, that is not how Hockey Canada is analyzed. The result is that they did not medal. It also marked the fourth straight year Team Canada failed to capture gold.
A good chunk of the blame will be shouldered by the coaching staff, and rightfully so. Steve Spott coached the team last year and also fell short in the semi-finals. However this year the mistakes seemed more apparent.
From Day 1, all of Canada knew who was going to start in goal, despite the tight competition between the top two goaltenders. Many single this decision out as purely political, but whatever it was it left a very good goalie on the shelf and having to start his first game in the semi-final.
Another tell-tale sign the coaching was not up-to-par was the fact that in almost every game Team Canada came out flat.
In the first preliminary matchup against the heavy underdogs from Germany, Canada only led by a single goal midway through the game. The defense showed considerable gaps which the Germans capitalized on for three goals.
In the second game, Canada trailed the Slovaks 3-2 halfway through before finally breaking out offensively in the last 30 minutes.
Although Canada started the third game versus Russia with considerable jump, the game was a see-saw battle until Nichushkin took a five-minute major penalty. If not for the key penalty to the man who would eventually end the rematch in overtime, that game could have gone either way.
After falling behind 4-0 in the rematch in the semi-finals against United States, an explanation need not be made.
And finally in the bronze medal game, allowing two goals within the first five minutes is simply unacceptable. A word used by every single Canadian player in the post-game interviews.
Nobody knows what truly goes on and what is said behind those locker room doors, but with that many terrible starts in a single tournament it isn`t a coincidence.
Canadians will continue to reel until next year as to what exactly happened in this tournament. But the fact is simple: Canada had the most talent of any team, as per usual, but failed to even medal. They ran into well prepared and well-coached teams in the USA and were out-prepared when it mattered most against Russia. There`s not many other ways you can slice it. Whether it was shaky goaltending in key moments again, poor coaching or just bad luck, Team Canada failed this year.
That failure will be felt until new results are determined next year.
Go back to bed Canada, it is over. Better luck next year.