Saturday, January 05, 2008

How close was that!

Canada salvaged their World Junior tournament on Saturday, as they regrouped after a bad third period to score an early overtime goal to secure their fourth World Junior Gold medal in a row.

It almost didn’t happen; the Swedes played an amazing third period of hockey, a game very reminiscent of December 29th when the Swedes battled back from a 2-0 deficit to hand Canada a shocking 4-3 loss.

Canada had jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and seemed to be at least secure with it as they headed towards what seems to be a problematic final twenty minutes of hockey whenever they play Sweden.

Canada should have been much further ahead as the Swedes spent a fair amount of their time in the penalty box during the second period, as Canada's control of the play frustrated them through the middle twenty minutes. Canada bounced shots wide, off goal posts and crossbars, Swedish goaltender Jhonas Enroth, played survival hockey for the Swedes denying Canada the chance to get any further ahead and did all in his power to keep his team in the game.

Canada got into trouble early in the third, untimely penalties and the seemingly subconcsious decision to sit back in their own end provided the Swedes with far too many opportunities to get back into the game. Canada was out shot 14 to 3 in the third frame, indicative of the control of play that the Swedes had during a frantic third period. The pace of play left the Canadians with little left in their tanks, their legs weary and their minds racing by the time the Swedes had tied the game.

With fourteen shots and amazing puck control all of it in the Canadian end you had those flashbacks to a December 29th evening that ultimately served as a wake up call for Canada. As the third period was winding down, the Swedes with an empty net and an extra attacker on the ice, once again put fear into the hearts of Canadian fans everywhere. The tying goal with but thirty eight second to play added to the tension that had been building through the third, quieting the overwhelmingly Canadian crowd, no doubt chewing finger nails through the last few minutes.

With the break between the third and the OT, the Canadians managed to shake off the troubles that had bedeviled them in the third, no longer sitting back, they once again began to take the play into the Swedish end of the rink and capitalizing on that intensity to put in the winning goal that while not pretty, was pure grit, a testimony to the work ethic that they needed to finally secure their gold medal.

They took the decidedly hard road to their goal of gold, but there can be no doubt that this was their victory. They almost let it slip away from them, but battled back when perhaps more than a few thought that the tide was going against them. For all the talk of the “streak”, the “four gold’s in a row” and all of the other flotsam and bombast that followed this team, the result at the end of the game is truly just theirs.

The young men that Canada sent off to the Czech Republic this year can take this one as close call against a very worthy foe, a team from Sweden that never quit and came very close to making this a very different outcome. But as it always is, the final result is what will be long remembered.

For this team, what they will remember is that when the game looked at risk, they battled back to claim a championship that perhaps too many say is theirs by birth right. That isn’t the case of course, never has been, never will be, but on a Saturday in a country far from home, a young group of Candian teenagers once again made all right in the hockey universe for the folks back home.

It takes hard work, a team approach and yes, a bit of luck from time to time to secure a championship, while there were stumbles along the way, Team Canada once again found a way to come out on top.

When you check the record books in a few years, the score will say 3-2 Canada in an Overtime win, the fourth Championship in a row and one of many over the last few decades. Only the players will remember how hard the task was and how much they wanted to win and were afraid to lose. Then again, in the end, they are the only ones who really count!

Globe and Mail--Canada Golden again

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