Saturday, January 06, 2007

Expectations fulfilled!

Canadian hockey teams whether professional, junior or a pee wee rep team all have one thing in common it seems, when they enter an international tournament, all the pressure, all the expectations fall on their shoulders.

From the Olympics, to World Championships and all things in between, the pressure to play at your peak increases when you don a jersey with a maple leaf stitched across your chest.

The 2007 World Junior championship was no exception, in fact unlike other tournaments, of late this one has been ours to own. Going into today’s Gold medal showdown with the Russians, Canada was the two time defending champion. They had not lost a game in three tournaments and were the prohibitive favourites to claim the gold once again. The only possible fly in that ointment, a rather poor success record while on European ice.

And with the drop of the puck, this junior team came out as if to prove that they were the rightful heirs to those that had skated before them. Coming off a hard fought and potential near miss against the Americans in the semi final, Canada was back on track in the Gold medal game.

They had a jump in their pace as the lines rolled over the boards, the took possession of the play through the first period and knocked the Russians off their game plan, three quick first period goals set the scene for the Canadians as they closed down the Russian attack time and time again.

The hero of the tournament and especially that semi final match with the USA, Carey Price once again was rock solid in the Canadian nets. With a strong defensive corps that refused second chances and back checking forwards that heard the message of Craig Hartsburg to take care of their end, it seemed for a while that Russians would be left on the sidelines in the showcase game of the tournament.

But, as is always the case a wounded bear is always the most dangerous bear and the Russian team began to climb their way back into the game as the second period progressed, Canada by then had jumped to a four to nothing lead, but as had been the tradition in this tournament for Russia, they would soon chip away at that lead and begin to claim some of the play as their own.

The testimony to Canada’s success however was the fact that the Russians could only score when given a man advantage, on even terms Canada controlled the game. The Russians would find a bit more space with Canada one man down, and would find success on two of those occasions.

The third period was a fast paced affair, the two teams trading zones and launching attacks. The key portion of the game came when the Russians were short handed but still took the play to Canada on a breakaway, Price stonewalled Anton Krysanov and at that point perhaps Canadians felt destiny on their side.

That feeling would be cemented when the Russians pulled their goalie during a power play and still could not score with a two man advantage, with time fast running out Canada played perfect defence, chipping the puck to the boards and then down the ice, never giving the Russians an opportunity to set up, let alone score the two goals needed to send the game to Overtime. The clock wound down, the Na na na song started up and Canada were gold Medal champs with a hard earned 4-2 victory over the previously undefeated Russians.

As the young if slightly off key chorus of Canadians finished singing O Canada and accepted their medals, you could almost see a weight lifting from their shoulders. Their team would not be the one to surrender the title of world’s best, they were perfect at this tournament on the ice for the most part and on the score sheet and official records.

Canada brought the game they needed to find to the rink on a Friday in Sweden. It was a combination of hard hitting and strong defensive play, which finally found some of the missing offensive of past Canadian teams.

Sometimes we tend to put too much pressure on these young people who play with such pride for their country. One day again the tide will turn, someone else will be collecting gold medals and hearing their anthem played in a foreign land.

But today wasn’t that day. Today, once again, Canada’s juniors proved that Canadian hockey played with enthusiasm, desire and heart can trump all obstacles.

This year’s class did well, for their nation, for their coach, for the game and for themselves. They are deserved champions, a collective group with memories that they will take with them through the years. They are a team that is now destined for their place in the lore of a hockey mad nation, joining those that went before them and rose to the occasion and succeeded at the most competitive level.
(Picture discovered at Toronto Star site)

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