Swedes derail Canadian express
30.12.2007. Feschuk, Dave. Toronto Star
The Czech Republic, once a dreary no-fun zone run bycommunists, has
become a veritable island of sin in the15 years since the dissolution
of the former Czechoslovakia. Pornography's a growth industry. Casinos
are ubiquitous. And sports betting is legal, with bookmakers
conveniently located on a street corner near you.
At just such a parlour not far from CEZ Arena yesterday, they were
taking action on everything from the NBA to English Premier League
soccer. They were also happy to give you attractive odds on yesterday's
Canada-Sweden match at the world junior hockey championship. Canada,
riding a 20-game win streak in the tournament, was the heavy favourite.
So in the hours before faceoff, it was the Swedish price that jumped
off the betting board. One hundred Czech korunas laid on the Swedes
promised a 600-koruna payout.
So, clearly, the oddsmaker didn't foresee Sweden's tournament-changing 4-3 win over a stunned squad of Canadian youngsters.
This is not to say your agent won serious money on the Scandinavians
yesterday, because if Rick Tocchet is out of the gambling business, so
am I. But this is to say that Canada's collapse was the best possible
result - not only for the folks who bet, perfectly legally and rather
intelligently, on the Tre Kronor yesterday - but for Canadian hockey
fans at large.
This edition of the under-20 world championship, after all, was a
tournament on the verge of getting boring, what with Canada not having
lost a game in four years and up 2-0 early in yesterday's third period.
More to the point, this Team Canada was turning into Team Complacent.
"We were starting to think we were invincible," said Brad Marchand. "That we could walk over anyone."
Perhaps they dropped their superiority complex after the Swedes scored
three goals in a bang-bang-bang stretch of the final frame to go ahead
3-2. In that jaw-dropping four minutes or so, Canada went from looking
like an impenetrable defensive fortress that had played its first eight
periods of the tournament without surrendering a goal to looking
disorganized, dazed and dispirited. And good for us, the observers. Now
the story, suddenly, gets interesting.
"These are young kids," said Craig Hartsburg, the Canada coach. "They make mistakes."
Indeed, they made some crucial ones. Marchand scored one goal for
Canada - the beautiful burst of speed to a backhanded finish that made
it 1-0 - but also effectively squandered the game, overskating a puck
in the Swedish zone in the dying seconds to set up the rush that
allowed Tobias Forsberg (no relation to Peter) to score the winner with
eight ticks on the clock.
Shawn Matthias scored one goal for Canada - the one that put them up
2-0 off a nice feed from his fellow Mississauga native Matt Halischuk -
but he also scored one for Sweden, this after Oscar Moller banked one
off Matthias's skate.
And Halischuk botched a two-on-nothing gift that would have freed Kyle
Turris for a short-handed breakaway that could have made it 3-0 Canada
early in the third period. Instead, after Turris couldn't chase
Halischuk's heavy pass down, Sweden came back and scored its first
goal, and the game was on.
Check that The tournament was on. Canada can still finish first in Pool
A and earn a bye to Friday's semifinal. But maybe this team would do
well to travel a tougher road. Most of these guys spent the summer
going unbeaten in eight games against Russia. They won all three of
their tune-up games. They'd cruised until last night.
"I think it was probably the first time we had faced adversity," said Jonathan Bernier, the goaltender.
Said Karl Alzner, the captain "It just leaves us more determined to
prove that it was one loss, and it shouldn't have happened, and it
won't happen again."
It'll be interesting to see how the team (not to mention the local oddsmakers) responds.
"They actually are angry now, and that's good," said Hartsburg.
"They're not feeling sorry for themselves, and that's my biggest fear
when you first talk to them. ...They're gonna have a refocus and get
back on the mission again."