Tuesday, January 06, 2009

No drama, but in the end a much desired result

After two consecutive games of nail biting, edge of your seat drama, Team Canada provided a workmanlike finale to the World Junior Hockey Championships with a 5-1 victory over Sweden.

From the first drop of the puck Canada had taken control of the play, sweeping into the Swedish end of the ice, scoring first and taking any steam out of the Swedes early on in the finale, once again denying Sweden of a gold medal, the second year in a row that Canada has quashed the hopes of their European competitors.

For Canada it was a record tying fifth consecutive victory, a drive for five that had been the underlying theme of this homecoming event in the nation’s capital. With a sold out crowd of over 20,000, including the Prime Minister in attendance, and no doubt millions more tethered to their television sets across the land, the youngsters delivered on the expectations, having survived to previous scares against the USA and Russia.

The tournament, one of the most treasured of Canadian institutions over the holidays, provided TSN with amazing viewership numbers, giving the IIHF more evidence if any was needed where the real home of hockey is in the world.

The team, a mixture of young Canadian players and one of the most respected coaches in the game proved to be the right mix, even if there was the occasional stumble along the way, while the reporters, commentators and columnists may have raised some flags over the last two weeks, on the bench and in the dressing room it would seem that doubt was never much of a currency, the steady calmness of Pat Quinn, combined with the youthful desire and constant heart of the Canadian juniors proved once again to be up to the task of delivering gold back to Canada.

The final match wasn’t a classic by any stretch, indeed Canada seemed to have little trouble with the Swedes on this night, with solid goal tending from Dustin Tokarski, scoring from the likes of Angelo Esposito, Cody Hodgson, PK Subban and Jordan Eberle and steady play from the defensive corps it was a full team effort and one that was efficient to the task if less than nerve wracking for the home audience.

The tournament provided a platform for any number of young hockey players, many with a destiny that will no doubt include the NHL in the next few years, yet for all the experience of playing the game at the highest level in the pressure cookers that became Scotiabank Place and the Ottawa Civic Centre has probably left lasting memories whether the pros beckon or not.

The day of course will come when Canada will not prevail at these World Juniors, we may have a sense of invincibility when it comes to this tournament, but eventually someone will come along to knock us off the pedestal for a year.

But, if we may, perhaps we can delay that destiny by one more year, next years tournament will take place in Saskatchewan, a province where hockey is as much of the culture as the crops in the fields or the minerals in the ground.

Canada will be seeking a mineral of its own next year in Regina and Saskatoon, a potential sixth straight gold medal, a feat which if achieved will be the new gold standard for junior hockey achievement on the world stage.

You don’t want to put any pressure on anyone so early in the process, but you have to know that when the world’s Junior hockey players return to Canadian ice next Boxing Day, the record will be high on the mind of all.

Defending champs always have the biggest burden when it comes to a competition, with a home crowd and high expectations again, the road won’t be any easier for those that pull on a Maple Leaf in one year’s time.

Savour the victory tonight Canada, work begins anew shortly for number six!

A gracious team, a grateful nation
Canadian juniors capture fifth straight gold
Golden again
Canada peaked in tournament final
Sweden spoke a little too soon

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