Thomas Hickey shoves Joakim Andersson with play stopped during the gold medal game of the IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
OTTAWA – Canada is golden once again. And if you like the sound of that, you might be happy to learn that you should get used to it.
If Canada’s 5-1 win over Sweden in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championship has proved one thing, it’s that the gap between Canada and the other countries in this event is getting wider and unlike when Canada won five straight golds from 1993 through 1997 and faltered after that, it is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
After a very difficult game against USA in the round-robin portion of the tournament and a heart-stopping win over Russia in the semifinal, Canada cruised to victory with surprising ease in the gold medal game. Sweden looked skittish and uncertain all game, while Canada played with authority and finally got championship-caliber play from its defense corps and goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
“I think this was our best game of our three key games,” said Canadian coach Pat Quinn. “We got our best start in the three games. Other games it seemed we were giving too much even in the warmup, but we got a much better start in this game.”
Expect more of the same next year. The tournament will be held in Regina and Saskatoon next winter and once again that gives Canada an enormous home ice advantage. Not only that, but a total of 10 players from this year’s squad will be eligible to return to the team in defensemen Ryan Ellis, Tyler Myers, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Teubert and forwards Patrice Cormier, Stefan Della Rovere, Jordan Eberle, Cody Hodgson, Evander Kane and John Tavares.
“To go back and do this again would be unbelievable,” said Eberle, a top prospect for the Edmonton Oilers. “Especially with it being in my hometown of Regina.”
Tavares and several others will undoubtedly be indisposed because they’ll be playing in the NHL, but even if they get half of those players back it will provide a solid foundation for the program. The Swedes will also have a number of players back and one would think they’ll be a more formidable opponent.
But they were not on this night and in reality, did not put up much of a game against the Canadian team. Canada played an aggressive style and had its best game of the tournament. Even though the Swedes were physical in their approach, Canada gave back every bit as intensely as it received.
“I think there were two winners in this tournament,” said Swedish coach Par Marts. “Canada won the gold medal, but we learned a lot. Something we need to get better at is our play in front of the net.”
As expected, Russia defeated Slovakia 5-2 in the bronze medal game.
Tavares was named most valuable player of the tournament and was also named to the tournament all-star team. Jaroslav Janus of Slovakia was the all-star goaltender, Erik Karlsson of Sweden and Subban of Canada were named to the all-star team on defense and Nikita Filatov of Russia and Hodgson of Canada, who led the tournament in scoring, joined Tavares at forward.
“It’s a great honor, but there’s no better feeling than being a part of this team,” said Tavares, who likely solidified his status as the No. 1 prospect for the 2009 entry draft with his play. “For me, it was just going out there and playing my game, knowing I’m going to get my opportunities and just making sure I’m the guy who’s counted on out there. I never felt the pressure of having to come through or score all these goals and putting up great numbers. I just wanted to play my game and I can say at the end of the day I gave it my all. I left it all out there.”
The game was a rather mean-spirited affair. Hedman accused the Canadian team of running Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom on two occasions, but Quinn said the contact was not deliberate. He did, however, acknowledge that their scouting report on Markstrom indicated “he gets disturbed by traffic and gets too concerned about what’s going on.”
“We were told before the tournament to stay away from the goalies and it would be two minutes in the box for hitting them,” Hedman said. “I guess they changed the rules for the gold medal game.”