The beauty of wisdom is that it can be found in simplicity. On this historic night, a night marred with failure and a quick, excruciating third period spiral for Team Canada, let’s reflect back on the immortal words of Frank the Tank.
Mental moxie is a prized commodity at the World Junior Championship, and it was in short supply for Canada when it mattered most. The result was a stunning, five-goal deflation in the final period, and a 5-3 loss in a tournament and game where Canada seemed assured of gold.
“These are kids, they make mistakes,” was Pierre McGuire’s assessment after Russia scored three unanswered goals in the third period to stun Canada and tie the game. These mistakes weren’t exactly like learning that stoves are hot, or that green means go. These kids were committing crucial errors in what to this point was the pinnacle of their hockey careers.
A mistake is a mental error, a gaffe that leads to an unwanted result. This was about much more than mere mistakes by Canada; it was amnesia in its harshest state. It was foolish. It was embarrassing. It was pathetic, and it was painful.
It was a choke job in its finest form.
All the hard work Dave Cameron and his staff did to build these 22 young men was shattered in eight short minutes. That’s how long it took for Russia to score those three unanswered goals, taking the lead shortly after and then adding a fifth for good measure in the closing minutes. Canada’s positive energy evaporated, their outlook going from sure gold, to utter desperation and despair.
As those wearing goofy hats and sunglasses that made HSBC Arena look like a sea of trolls chugged their last lager and headed for the exits, the realization sunk in: this team simply checked out. It’s as though the real team already left the building, crossed the Peace Bridge, and was eating a celebratory meal while slamming down bills at the Fallsview craps tables. In the third period that wasn’t the Team Canada we saw through six games. It was a group of fragile, skittish young men, fumbling their way to the finish line. And failing epically.
At least they made history, giving Canada its worst and most rapid collapse in the tournament.
It all started with Russia’s two goals that were 13 seconds apart in the third period’s opening minutes. On the second goal, Dylan Olsen showed poor foot speed as Max Kitsyn blew by him. It was a problem compounded by the ticking time bomb otherwise known as Mark Visentin, with Canada’s latest goaltending love child allowing another softie.
The praise unloaded on Visentin after the semi-final win over the U.S. would have buried the world’s tallest man. He was effective when he needed to be against the Americans, but still only faced a modest 23 shots. It was the Canadian defence that did the dirty work, and prior to the third period collapse tonight Canada had allowed one goal in its last five periods of play, and had outscored opponents 36-14.
Somehow, the psyche was fractured, and the wound went deep.
Canada still held a lead after Russia’s rapid first two goals, but already the end seemed inevitable. This isn’t to take anything away from the Russians either. They were dead through two periods, and then were suddenly rejuvenated during the final frame. Artemi Panarin led the charge, scoring two of the comeback goals. His brilliance was matched by Kitsyn, whose speed won the battle against Canada’s physicality, at least for one period. Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov was also strong, redeeming himself from a fall from grace earlier in the tournament after he relieved starter Dmitri Shikin in the second period. Bobkov was named Russia’s player of the game.
Once the anguish of this humiliation wears off, Canadians will remember the dominance of Brayden Schenn and Ryan Ellis. With his second period goal to give Canada a three-goal led, Schenn’s 18 points tied Dale McCourt for the most points by a Canadian at the WJC. There’s little more that can be said about the spectacle of his performance, but if you’re a Kings fan right now, you’re about as giddy as a baby on a swing.
In a game in front of a home crowd, Canada needed to harness momentum early with more than just a lead, but with hustle plays. Ellis brought both, scoring Canada’s first goal on the powerplay, and then a few shifts later fighting off several Russian forwards deep in their own end to create another scoring chance.
There were positives from others too, although at this point remembering them will be like playing mental connect the dots with that number written in red ink on your hand at the end of the night. For at least 40 minutes, Erik Gudbranson, Jared Cowan, and Tyson Barrie had their usual strong and sturdy performances, as defence continued to be Canada’s strength.
The problem was the last 20 minutes. For our entire hockey lives we’ve repeatedly heard the most ridiculous expression in the massive, dusty glossary of hockey clichès. Do a little channel surfing tonight, and you’ll hear at least a dozen NHL players and coaches saying they either did or didn’t “play for 60 minutes.”
Thanks, Team Canada. Now every time we hear those robotic words flashes of failure will taunt the mind’s eye.