Monday, May 10, 2004

Back on top of the Worlds

History repeated itself in the World Championships in a number of ways on Sunday afternoon, as Canada stormed back in dramatic fashion to claim the World Hockey Championship for the second year in a row, with a 5-3 victory over Sweden. Once again Canada stumbled at the start only to charge to the finish line. Ancient teams of Canadian lore were remembered as Canada won back to back championships for the first time in 50 years. And the Lucky Loonie factor, Canada’s secret weapon in the Championship once again was called into service. In what has become a Canadian tradition two Loonies were placed in the webbing of each net for good luck, the Loonies the same ones used in the Women’s Championship earlier in the year in Halifax,

At the start of the game it seemed that the Loonie effect was going to be counter productive, as Canada was knocked on its heels in the first ten minutes of the game, when the Swedes came flying out of the dressing room to take an early 2-0 lead, similar to the way they had taken charge in past championship match ups. Slowly Canada began to battle back late in the first period, chipping away at the Swedish lead on a goal by Ryan Smyth at the thirteen minute mark. The goal provided Canada with a measure of hope heading into the dressing room.

In the second period the Swedes regained a bit of their momentum with a quick goal, putting them two goals up with a goal that Roberto Luongo probably wished he had back, the Canadian bench slumped in frustration for a bit after that one, only to rejuvenate itself and begin what would become a four goal comeback on the road to the Championship. Not surprisingly it was Dany Heatley who spurred the Canadians on to the comeback in the second period, scoring his eighth goal in the tournament; good enough to lead all scorers and a timely goal which brought Canada back to within one. By games end Heatley would be named as the tournament MVP, a fitting title for a guy that dominated this tournament.

Rob Niedermayer tallied one 50 seconds later and suddenly Canada was tied and seemingly back in control of the game. Sweden became flustered with the sudden domination of the Canadians, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist appeared to feel the pressure with the quick scoring Canadian attack. It served as a baptism by fire for the 22 year old Swede who is a New York Ranger prospect.

Jay Bouwmeester kept up the attack in the third period scoring the go ahead and eventual winning goal shortly after the puck dropped. Canada then picked up another gear and shut down the Swedish attack completely, Matt Cooke added an insurance goal at the mid point of the third and that was all she wrote. The Swedes by the end of the game looked shell shocked, unsure as to how their game plan got side tracked and how Canada once again had clawed its way back into a game.

For Canadian Hockey the win represents another message that the game may not be as critically flawed as our critics like to pronounce. The final game provided many of the key intangibles of Canadian hockey lore, strong goaltending when the chips were down, an ability to fight back from adversity and regain the attack and of course the Lucky Loonie, which surely must now be a pre requisite for every travelling squad the country sends out.

Not since the Whitby Dunlops in 1958 and the Belleville McFarlands won back to back has a Canadian team pulled off the double. The Championship win must seem particularly sweet to this crew of Canadians, considering the bizarre start to this series. With a head coach returning to Canada, lacklustre performances in the early round and solid thrashing by the Czech Republic, many may have started to write off this teams chance to repeat.

But all fears were unfounded as it turned out, after a hard fought and controversial game yesterday against the Slovaks and a terrible start to this one, Canada finally found its cruise control. By the mid part of the game you could tell that determination and heart would not be denied yet again.

They may not do it the easy way, but as the world knows by now, you can never count Canada out. No matter how bad a score gets, they will chip away and slowly come back. Confidence building with every goal scored, success measured in heartbeats not clicks on a clock. If you have any doubts contact the Swedish Hockey Federation they’ll be able to provide some first hand information.

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