Canada has no monopoly on heart
Bruce Arthur January 5, 2011 – 10:18 pm
BUFFALO, N.Y. — We ask so much of these kids, and they ask so much of themselves. They’re no longer boys and not quite men, most of them, and when the world junior hockey championships roll around all the nation does is ask them to live up to everyone who came before them, to live up to Canadianhockey. We ask them to play like men, or near enough, with the spotlights bright and burning.
And sometimes, they falter. Sometimes, they fall.
Wednesday night Canada settled for silver at the world junior hockey championships for the second consecutive year with a crushing 5-3 loss to Russia at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. It was not just a loss; it was a collapse the likes of which Canada mightnever have seen. It was among the most spectacular collapses in hockey history.
And when it was over the Russians celebrated with the pure joy of youth, hurling their helmets and howling their anthem, and Canada’s players looked hollowed to the core. This will haunt a lot of dreams, for a long time.
“I can’t believe it happened,” said goaltender Mark Visentin. “I don’t really have anyexplanation.”
“It’s probably 10 times worse [than 2010],” said defenceman Ryan Ellis, the team’s captain. “It was right there, we had it … and then it’s gone.”
Canada started out playing like men, bullying the Russians in their own end, and built a 3-0 lead after two periods. Their power players shrugged away Russian defenders like they were little brothers. The Canadians slowed the game down andpounded away, a shot-blocking, hit-delivering, back-checking bully who rolled line after line.
As in the semi-final against the Americans, they looked unbreakable. And without warning, as teenagers tend to do, they came apart.
One Russian goal, then two, in a 13-second flash, and the ice began to give way. Russian captain Vladimir Tarasenko, playing with a rib injury, tied the score less thanfive minutes later. Canada looked frozen, panicked, lost. Russia was flying, and looked like men. A fourth goal came, and then a fifth, a weaving beauty from Nikita Dvurechenski, sealed the tomb.
It was grit, guts, heart, all those adjectives that Canadians sometimes believe to be their own exclusive property. Tarasenko’s ribs were so bad that Russian coach Valeri Bragin ordered him back to thelocker room, and Tarasenko refused to go. As Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov recounted, “Vladimir Tarasenko, our captain, he has injury, and the coach said ‘Don’t go’ in the first period, and he said, ‘No, I’m going.’ And he scored the third goal. It’s the best captain in my life.”
They did it on small ice, deploying a team with no CHL skaters, in front of a hostile and fearsome Canadian crowdthat Bobkov admitted scared him the first time they met. It was, on the balance, astonishing.
As he approached the podium with Canadian coach Dave Cameron, Bragin quietly removed his gold medal and slipped it into his coat pocket. Then he sounded for all the world like a Canadian coach.
“To reach a big goal, you need real character players,” he said, through a translator. “I never give up.And my team never give up.”
It was Canada’s 10th consecutive appearance in the gold medal game, and easily the most devastating. It may have been Canada’s fifth silver in the past decade, but the previous four losses — to Russia in 2002 and 2003, to the United States in 2004 and 2010 — were by a single goal. The one immutable law of this tournament has become that Canada is always there, rightto the end.
They didn’t get there, this time, but the Russians did. They began this tournament with a 6-3 loss to Canada, switched goalies, scrambled their lines, lost to Sweden, and began to clamber out of one hole, then another, then another.
Russia subdued the Finns and the Swedes in the elimination round with ferocious third-period comebacks, and then painted this masterpiece. It was an...