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They go down in history for dominating an International Ice Hockey Federation world junior tournament like few others ever, then gagging on the gold-medal game.
If they were pros, you might even use a less polite word: Choking.
Whatever the word you choose, that’s a tough thing to write considering we’re dealing with 19-year-old kids here. But how else do you write it?
This team went into the game having outscored the opposition 41-4, recorded shutouts in three of their six games and had not given up a five-on-five goal throughout the entire tournament.
Maybe you should just credit Team USA for rising to the occasion and beating Canada at its own game on Canadian ice, because that’s what happened in the Edmonton hub city bubble at Rogers Place Tuesday.
The Americans have now triumphed in four straight USA-Canada gold-medal games at the world juniors — three of them in Canada — and nobody is going to suggest they were unworthy winners.
Maybe Team Canada, on Day 51 of their time together since checking into training camp in Red Deer, were victims of being in a pathetically impotent group and having no real challenge to prepare them for what the USA produced to win the game.
Canada was in a round-robin pool with a coronavirus-decimated German team that had to play (and lose 16-2 to the Canadians) minus nine players who had to remain in their rooms while the team played back-to-back games with 14 skaters.
Finland, Switzerland and Slovakia were the other teams.
You could write it as the U.S. being more battle-tested coming out of their pool than Canada. But the groups are determined by previous year standings and it’s not going to be much different next year for Edmonton-Red Deer 2022.
The USA, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland will play in Group A in Red Deer.
Canada, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic and Austria will play in Group B in Edmonton.
Assuming the NHL is up and running, the Canadian team won’t have the same access to NHL players and other nations won’t lose as many players testing positive for the coronavirus before they get here.
It should be a much more competitive and interesting tournament leading to the medal round. And maybe if Canada finds itself in a gold-medal rematch against the USA, having 18,000-plus fans in the stands will provide the team with the inspiration to overcome like all those Canadian fans in Ostrava, Czech Republic, provided when Canada was down 3-1 to the Russians in the final game last year.
All looked well with the Canadians when they showed up on New Year’s Eve and overwhelmed the Finns with fore-checking and back-checking and winning all the little races to the puck, outshooting them 17-1 in the first period and giving Finland no room to play the game.
Team Canada didn’t do that against the Czech Republic in the cursed crossover quarter-final, when half the hockey club looked like the pressure of the lose-and-you-go-home-in-shame game had managed to get to them.
But they won. And they returned to bring their New Year’s Eve game back for the semi-final and played possessed to beat Russia 5-0.
Then again, Canada-Russia is no longer the ultimate rivalry in hockey, it’s now Canada-USA and the team that hadn’t been behind for a single second during the entire tournament gave up the first two goals of the game .
That was it. Two-nothing. Game over. Final score.
It was the Americans who played possessed and took the fore-checking, back-checking game to Canada.
This Team Canada produced some staggering statistics in this no-fans-in-the-stands tournament, but the one that will be remembered is how this team with 19 first-round draft picks, including every player on offence, failed to score one single goal in the final.
I thought Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, the former coach of the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, had the best analysis of Canada’s start to the game on a between-periods appearance on TSN, when he observed how the team appeared to be playing “not to lose.”
When it was over, Canadian players dropped to one knee with the faces covered by their hands as they began to deal with their once-in-a-lifetime world junior experience that ended in such monumental disappointment.
And it forced red-eyed, almost-sobbing game captain Bowen Byram to join Canadian manager Scott Salmond in draping the silver medals around the necks of his teammates.
It was emotional stuff to watch and hard not to feel for these teenagers who had gone through so much together, including 14-days of team quarantine together — 28 if you were one of the three NCAA players on the team.
You could write it as a blow for hockey in Canada.
But while Canada may have lost, Edmonton won with the hosting success story and it was also a massive victory for minor hockey in Alberta.
The 50-50 jackpot Tuesday was $17,492,490 with half to the winner and half to grassroots hockey in the province.
Over the tournament, the total was $42,252,050 with $21,126,025 going to minor hockey.
That’s a lot of pucks.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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