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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Comeback

Well I wasn't planning on writing another blog till Friday, after Team Canada won the gold at the World Juniors, or at least that was the plan; But as team Canada forward Brendan Gallagher said; "that won't happen anymore". Team Canada was defeated for the second year in a row by Russia, losing 6-5 on Tuesday evening. But despite the loss, it was quite the game, one that will not soon be forgotten, and needless to say, I'm happy I didn't go to bed after the second period.

My hockey viewing last night started off with me watching the end of the Leaf game with my dad; then as the clock struck 9, I fired up my laptop and followed the World Junior game on twitter, where I quickly learned that Russia was beating Canada 2-0. I though it was a mis-tweet at first, maybe the person that tweeted the score got confused. But after the Leaf game ended, we flipped to the World Junior game, and I quickly saw for myself that Canada was down by 2. I was stunned to see Canada losing by 2, so early in the game, but then the lone bright spark for Canada early in the game, was when, Brett Connolly arguable the best forward for the tournament, scored to cut the lead in half. It was 2-1 team Canada had hope, the crowd got excited again, we saw the comeback happening. Then after a weak call on Gallagher, Russian's

Evgeni Kuznetsov scored his 2nd goal of the evening, then shortly after notched his 3rd goal, giving him a hat trick and making it 4-1. After the goal team Canada goaltender Scott Wedgewood, was barrelled over, by a Russian player, and laid flat on the ice, that put an end to Wedgewood's night. Cue Mark Visentin, who blew the 3 goal lead in last year's World Junior gold medal game, to who other than the Russians. But it just wasn't going to happen; as Russia scored their 5th goal on just the second shot Visentin faced. It was 5-1 at that point,  and it just didn't seem like it was Canada's night. Before the start of the third, my dad asked me if I was really going to stay up much longer, since Canada, obviously wasn't going to win. But I told him I had to stay up just a little longer, I didn't want to miss an amazing once in a lifetime kind of comeback from team Canada. (yes those where my exact words before the 3rd period even started.) I had a feeling in my gut, that Canada wasn't going to just rollover, but then on a delayed penalty in the 3rd period, Canada's Nathan Beaulieu decided to argue the call with the referee instead of skating hard on the back-check, the lack of Beaulieu being in the play gave the Russians plenty of time to finish off a passing play that made it 6-1. 
Not going to lie, after the 6th goal, I was extremely worried that Canada wouldn't be able to overcome the deficit. Especially against the Russian goaltender who had been standing on his head all night, despite only being 17. But then something clicked, the light turned on and the machine known as the team Canada world junior team, started to work together; 2 quick goals by Dougie Hamilton and Canada's captain Jaden Schwartz, made it 6-3, and the deficit didn't seem so large anymore, there was hope, fans were on their feet again and cheering loudly, and the players looked excited and energized again, ready to close the gap. The my favourite baby faced player Brendan Gallagher scored making it 6-4, and then Brandon Gormley potted one making it 6-5, and the deficit was cut to one! Canada made an epic 
come-back in the third period, scoring 4 goals in a little over 5 minutes! It got excited and the Russians got scared, after already using their timeout, Russia's coach went on a gut feeling and decided to pull the 17 year old starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski, and replace him with 20 year old veteran goaltender, Andrei Makarov in order to slow Canada's momentum. The gut feeling worked and Russia was able to handle the onslaught of the Canadians in the final 2 minutes. It came oh so close, as the game of inches played a factor when Ryan Strome hit the goal post in the dieing seconds of the game. It was a heartbreaking loss for team Canada, who for a second straight year, had their dreams crushed by Russia, and for the 3rd straight year will not be taking home a gold medal from the World Junior tournament.

So how and why did Team Canada lose? 3 simple factors that make all the difference, in these crucial games, is how.
Goaltending; Team Canada hasn't had a decent goalie that they can rely heavily on, since Carey Price back in 2007, that's 5 years of rocky goaltending. Although Edgewood let in 4 goals on 13 shots, you can't place all the blame on him, he had no chance on at least 3 of the goals, his own teammate Ryan Murray scored on him 3 times, by deflecting Russian shots. Yes sadly enough Ryan Murray deflected 3 straight goals into his own net, he make history and be talked about for years, unfortunately not in the way he would like. Then there is Mark Visentin, who I have not liked/trusted in net since blowing that 3 goal lead to Russia last year, costing us the gold medal. I don't think he takes it seriously enough, if you look at his reaction after the 6th Russian goal, he was smiling/laughing; your team is down 6-1 and not going to make it to the finals and you're smiling? So I was quite happy when Wedgewood was chosen to start this game over the lacklustre Visentin. Sadly enough neither of the two goaltenders for team Canada were good enough to win the gold, wheather you like it or not, it's true.
Second reason we lost; undisciplined selfish penalties taken by guys who should know better. Boone Jenner received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Kuznetsov. Now on any normal occasion, that penalty would have been stupid anyway, but team Canada was already getting a much needed 2 minute power play, after Kuznetsov had, clotheslined Jenner. Another thing that really bugs me about this play; Kuznetsov came over to see if Jenner was okay! That's the only reason he was there! It was a dumb selfish move by Jenner, who should have just accepted the apology and skated to the bench. If that wasn't bad enough; Jonathan Huberdeau decided he didn't like the call from the referees and showed it, by banging his stick on the ice earning him an extra 10 minute misconduct. Another selfish, dumb penalty by Canada. We sank down to Russia's level, or dirty cheap hockey, and we can't beat them at their own game. The fact of the matter is, these guys are just teenagers, and with teenagers tempers rise, and then you mix the emotion of representing your country, and getting beat by the Russian again, a few of the players just couldn't handle it, and lashed out/voiced their displeasure. And the last reason, was the play of the Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski who had to face 56 shots! For a goalie 56 shots is a ton, it's roughly what an NHL goalie will face in 2 full games! (30 + 26) Not to mention he stopped 51 of those shots, from the skilled Canadian snipers. Team Canada was just out goaltended in the game, Russia wanted to win more than the Canadian squad.

But Let's end this evaluation of the game and tournament of a positive note; The best players from Tuesday nights match.
For Team Canada; One of the top players is my favourite Brendan Gallagher, he is literally the heart and soul of this Canadian team! last night he was extremely instrumental in the comeback, scoring a goal and adding two assists! Despite of being 5 foot 8, 178 pounds; Gallagher goes all out and doesn't worry about being the smallest person on the ice; In the game against the US, Gallagher even knocked over a 6 foot 2, 220 pound defenceman. “I’ve always been told I was too small,” Gallagher said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “I was always the smallest guy out there. I learned to deal with it at a young age. It’s something that never really bothered me. I was always able to do what I wanted to do. “
Gallagher is not afraid of anyone when playing, he'll drive the net hard no matter who is in his way.
Another impressive player from the tournament was Brett Connolly; the Tampa Bay Lightning forward on lone for the World Juniors. Despite being under much scrutiny during the selection camp; due to a hit of teammate Quinton Howden and vastly underperforming, but after that debacle, Connolly was named an Alternete captain and had quite the tournament; in 5 games Connolly scored 4 goals and added an assist, not mention he was a +5 for the tournament. Then there was Mark Stone, who barely missed tying the game up on Tuesday. Stone scored 7 times though Canada's first 4 games. 
We'll wrap things up with talking about Russia's best players from Tuesday nights match;
Evgeni Kuznetsov; who managed a hat trick plus an assist dominated the game for the Russians. Not only was his presence felt in the game, but the whole tournament had Kuznetsov finding the back of the net; this was his second hat trick of the tournament. Kuznetsov is a former firs round pick of the Capitals, and one of their top prospects. So far the Capitals prospect has 6 goals and 13 points in the tournament, and still has another game to play,.
Nail Yakupov, who is rumoured to be the first overall pick at the 2012 draft. He finished Tuesdays match with 4 assists. "We didn't finish strong, but we scored six goals and we beat Canada," said Russian forward Nail Yakupov. "Russia's better than Canada." One thing the Russians were extremely good, at was making enemies with the Team Canada fans, they'd laugh and make faces at fans in front of the boards, and encouraged all the boo's; this year Yakupov is correct Russia beat us, making them the better team!

Good Job boys, keep your head held high, you went out with class and amassed a near comeback that will go down in history! keep your spirits high and come out ready to win the Bronze medal! It's a little disheartening hearing that, this is the first time in 11 years Canada will not be apart of gold medal game.
But to be honest we didn't deserve to be there, especially the way we started the game against Russia. Poorly played 40 minutes of hockey!

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