Thursday, January 05, 2012

Canada's loss still leaves players, fans in shock

 “If you understand how important winning is, you really feel the value of discipline. It’s about sacrifice and doing things to help you win — it’s not about getting even.”  -- Canadian Coach, Don Hay providing the key talking point of Canada's disappointing loss to Russia of Tuesday night.

Don Hay is a rather pragmatic fellow, he understands the emotional attachment that Canadians have with their game,  how that emotion can spur a team on to a great victory or work against it to deliver a loss, Tuesday in a second period Canadian meltdown the hockey Gods delivered the second option.

In one of those ever constant classic games on an emotional level if not on the actual level of play, Canada and Russia squared off in the World Junior Semi Final, a much anticipated game that provided for no shortage of sub plots and delivered a roller coaster of emotional angst to last for the next 365 days or so.

The Russians who were full value for their eventual win in the first two periods, suffered the kind of collapse in the third that might have destroyed lesser teams, frankly lucky to survive that third period with a victory, they provided for enough scoring in the first forty minutes to make that Canadian mountain just a little too hard to climb on the final ascent.

Canada's loss could be attributed to goal tending perhaps, though one has much sympathy with Scott Wedgewood who despite the Russian onslaught of the first two periods held them off as best he could, no doubt wishing to have a few shots back, he was more the victim of his team mates undisciplined play in the first two periods than of the dramatic goal scoring machine that the Russians provided.

His exit of the game after being run over in his own goal by a Russian player not even in on the play was certainly not a finger of blame being pointed but maybe a wishful sea change by Hay who needed to turn around the Canadian focus, replaced by Mark Visentin the Canadians continued to pour on the pressure on the Russians, chipping away at their massive third period lead, each goal knocking out a plank of that confidence and cockiness that the Russians had of the first two.

Canada did not aid their cause with their play of the second period, where emotions clearly got the better of them, the pressure of an elimination game weighing heavy on the teenagers we sent onto the ice.  Frustrations led to a major spearing penalty and then another glimpse of Canadian frustration a ten minute unsportsmanlike penalty, key moments where control should have won out over action, but instead resulted in penalty situations that helped the Russians.

Still, when you hoist your nation's ambitions upon the shoulders of young adults, the pressure of that can work in two directions, that second period, which proved to be the downfall for Canada is exhibit A in how it works against you.

In a tournament that always features questions on the officiating, leaving your fate to the fortunes of the penalty kill is probably not a great strategy. Though to be fair to the officials, for the most part they handled the game well, Canada got away with almost as many calls as they served, the same for the most part could be aid for the Russians.

In the end, the Canadians ran out of time and ran out of chances, had but one or two of the clanging goal post shots or goal mouth swoops made their way into the Russian net, the talk would have been about another monumental Canadian comeback.

It took them forty minutes, but Canada finally brought that never say die mentality that it has on the ice to the game, making for a frantic twenty minutes that left you on the edge of your couch wondering if indeed this was all really happening on your television screen.

Those that were channel surfing through the second, hopefully checked back in for the third, as it was some of the most emotional play we've seen in a number of years, not diminished by the outcome, but still not the ending that Canada would have wished for.

There's going to be disappointment in the Canadian dressing room and with its program for the next year, Canada expects to win or at least compete in the gold medal game each and every time the puck drops in this tournament, to be playing for bronze is going to be a little strange for the players.

The Russians however, with the exception of their third period floundering (something the Swedes no doubt made note of) were deserving of their win, they outplayed Canada in periods one and two, providing for enough of a cushion to just bring in the victory.

In a tournament that Canada has dominated for many years, it's almost refreshing to see some of the other countries ratchet up their game to contend for the championship gold medal, though it's going to be a little discombobulating not seeing that Maple Leaf sweater on the ice when the final game of this year's efforts takes place later tonight.

For ticket scalpers, it would appear that Canada's early exit is the makings of a financial meltdown that will be memorable for those that engage in such things as hockey ticket speculation.

The National Post's Cam Cole provides one of the more introspective looks at Tuesday's action, followed up by the Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor who offers up this review of the tournament and some of the dynamics that may have resulted in the Canadian loss.

Their work highlights a strong package of reviews of the world junior (much of which you can look back on here).

The remainder of the Semi Final reviews however can be found below.

Calgary Sun-- Grow Up, Kuznestov

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