Each medal worth celebrating
Bronze should be savoured
By Cam Cole, Calgary Herald
January 6, 2012
Members of Team Canada stand arm-in-arm during the singing of the national anthem after winning the world junior championship's bronze-medal game 4-0 over Finland on Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Photograph by: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images, Calgary Herald
For all the grief Canadian teams have taken about their supposed lack of enthusiasm for bronze medals at the world junior hockey champion-ship, maybe we ought to look in the mirror for the real culprits.
Maybe it's us. Maybe it's the media that bails out after a semifinal loss, convinced no one cares any more be-cause, after all, we can't win gold - an arrogance and lack of respect for the gold-medal finalists that, frankly, are not very flattering to our hockey-mad nation.
Maybe it's the premium-seat holders who don't show up because, well, a bronze is beneath us.
The players? They care. Since the medal-round format came into being in 1996, Canada has played a bronze-medal game three times, and won all three - Thursday's latest instalment a 4-0 decision over Finland that was so lopsided the score could have been just about anything. If bronze is beneath them, they've done a good job of hiding it.
Canadians seemed to win every puck battle, outhustling and outworking the exhausted-looking Finns by a wide margin. The players' positional play and commitment were superior. Mark Visentin stopped a break-away and a penalty shot, and made a blind, behind-his-back circus catch of a puck headed for the net by the polar route, posting a shutout that might almost, if never quite, erase the memory of last year's third-period collapse against the Russians.
There was nothing but a little lack of finish to complain about, and that wasn't through any shortage of effort. Bronze was not, as the Canadians have all acknowledged, what they came here for, but it's what they leave with, and they had to win a game to get it, not lose one to win silver.
"This is a tough game to win sometimes, but I thought our team really stuck with it, showed a lot of desire and heart," said Don Hay, the Vancouver Giants coach who will go back to his Western Hockey League club, as his assistants and players will go back to theirs, with bittersweet memories of this event.
"We're disappointed we weren't able to play in the (gold-medal) game, but I thought overall we had a good tournament, to go 5-1 and have one tough game . . . I really liked the way we responded tonight."
The victory, for what it's worth, Hay's 12th in the world juniors, ties him with Brent Sutter and Craig Hartsburg for the most ever by a Team Canada coach. But he, like the fans, like the players, had hoped it would be with more on the line.
There are libraries louder than the Scotiabank Saddle-dome was prior to the puck drop . . . and after it, too. The first period was a no-hit snoozer, despite a Canadian goal by Tanner Pearson on one of a series of power plays afforded by the uninspired Finns. There were a raft of missed opportunities, others that the home side simply passed up, and if Visentin hadn't stopped Markus Granlund on a short-handed breakaway with four minutes left, the period might have ended 1-1 despite a 15-7 Canadian edge in shots.
The edge in play remained constant in the second, and finally the pucks started to go past Finnish goalie Sami Aittokallio, first a beauty by Mark Schiefele (set up by Pearson, his teammate with the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts) and another power-play goal by Quinton Howden.
"We heard all that talk that we weren't going to be ready, but you have to be professional about it. We cherish the chance to put that jersey on," said the Canadians' little dynamo, Brendan Gallagher, whose weak tripping penalty at the end of the second period gave the Finns just a little hope of a comeback.
But the Canadians killed it, and just as the penalty expired, Visentin, who felt as much as saw the puck bounce over his shoulder off a goalmouth scramble, reached behind him and took a swipe with his catching glove and, lo and behold, the puck landed in it like the proverbial butterfly with sore feet.
The Finns, whose shoo-tout loss to Sweden in the semifinal was every bit as deflating as Canada's 6-5 loss to Russia, were pretty much beaten after that.
"Canada was good," said Teemu Pulkkinen, whom Visentin stopped on a penalty shot late in the second period. "But we were tired. We played a long game against Sweden, and we were so close . . . to lose the game, we were so disappointed.
"We played much more physically against Sweden, but tonight . . . I was so tired, I couldn't play."
Howden's second of the game, at 17: 35 of the third period, wrapped it up for Canada, and then came the ceremonies and the medals and the silver plate awarded to captain Jaden Schwartz that must have felt like the prize for Miss Congeniality.
But then they played O Canada, and the kids lined up on the blueline and put their arms around each other's shoulders and pasted smiles on their faces, sang out of tune, and saluted the crowd.
They've won a medal 14 years in a row now at this tournament. That's some-thing they cared enough to do. We ought to try to care a little, ourselves.
Cam Cole is a Vancouver Sun Sports columnist
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