Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!; Halischuk's winner makes it four in a row for Canada and 'best fans in the world'
06.01.2008. Feschuk, Dave. Toronto Star
PARDUBICE, Czech Republic
The annals of Canadian hockey are filled with memorable goals in high-stakes situations.
But in the moments after Matt Halischuk scored the latest in the long
line, his memory of winning Canada its fourth straight world junior
championship was a little foggy. Call it amnesia by ecstasy.
"I don't even remember what happened. I was just on the bottom of the
pile. It was a pretty heavy pile," said Halischuk. "I think (the
winning goal) might have gone five hole. I don't know. I just kind of
jammed at it."
For the record, Halischuk described it about right, a
nothing-pretty-about-it overtime goal assisted by Halischuk's fellow
Mississauga native Shawn Matthias that set off a celebration that
eventually carried on into the seats of the CEZ Arena, where so many
travelling Canadian fans embraced the triumphant players they'd crossed
an ocean to cheer.
There was, in the emotional wake of a 3-2 win over Sweden, spontaneous
crying from the faithful, tears smudging face paint. There were sighs
of a relief, a championship team exhaling.
"I don't know what we would have done without (the fans)," said Karl
Alzner, the team captain. "They cheered when we were up. They cheered
when we were down. They cheered in games that really didn't mean that
much in the round robin. ... I think we have the best fans in the
For more than a moment yesterday, when Canada was blowing another
third-period lead to the Swedes - this after losing a preliminary-round
game to the Tre Kronor by surrendering four goals in about 15 minutes -
what seemed like the cusp of party time turned to overtime.
Were the Canadians, up 2-0 after two periods, choking it up?
Or were they, after seven games in 11 days in a pressure cooker of an atmosphere, simply worn down?
"I don't think it was the legs that let down," said Brad Marchand, "it's that we weren't playing the right system."
Maybe we all owe Canadian coach Craig Hartsburg a debt of gratitude for
making yet another run to the gold medal at the world junior
championship more dramatic than anyone imagined it could be.
The system Hartsburg appeared to have his boys playing for most of
yesterday's heart-tester of a third period - known in the textbooks as
the hallowed Five-Guys-Skating-Backwards-And-Slowly Defence - opened
the door for a revved up Team Sweden to come back from a 2-0 deficit.
Tomas Larsson's tying goal with 38 seconds left in regulation silenced the pro-Canada crowd's bring-it-home chants.
Actually, while it was the Canadians themselves who were criticizing
their approach to the third period - said Alzner, "Teams that come
after us should know, if you've got a lead, don't sit back" -
Hartsburg's two gold medals in two head-coaching turns at this
tournament suggest that he's got something figured out.
So has the nation's hockey factory. The win marked Canada's 14th gold
medal in the 27 years going back to its first victory at this
championship in 1982.
That's an over-.500 winning percentage, and a testament to a country's
systematic ability to churn out savvy defencemen and gritty forwards
and stoic goalies - not to mention good coaches - like so many
The perennial rivals aren't pushovers, but they've all got their problems.
The Russians, who beat the U.S. 4-2 for the bronze medal yesterday,
have talent, obviously, but they don't have a developmental system to
polish the pre-pro product.
The U.S. - which suffered a monumental collapse in a 4-1 semifinal loss
to Canada the day before - has athletes with size and skill, but
they're a little short on goaltending and experienced coaching.
And the Swedes ... well, they last won this tournament in 1981, but they're obviously getting better.
"I'm really proud of the Swedish guys because I think they sent a
message that we're going to be here forever, and play for the gold next
year," said coach Par Marts.
Canada isn't getting any worse, clearly.
Next year's team, bound for Ottawa, will look to match Canada's
championship record of five consecutive golds, set from 1993-1997, and
their chances, 12 months out, look pretty decent.
They'll likely have defensive depth in Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn.
They'll have offensive wizardry in John Tavares and Steven Stamkos,
although the latter, eligible for June's NHL draft, could theoretically
be playing in the big league and unavailable for service.
And maybe they'll find an easier way to win it - or not.
"It's the Canadian way. We find a way," said Hartsburg. "It wasn't how
we wanted to end the third period. But for two periods I thought we
were great. And you know what? We regrouped ... and the kids found a
Indeed, they regrouped, not only after yesterday's third-period collapse, but after their round-robin loss.
Steve Mason, the Oakville goalie, regrouped after shaky work in a
quarter-final win over Finland, putting in team-anchoring work in the
final two games that earned him tournament MVP.
You got the feeling he and his teammates might remember yesterday for a long, long while.
"This," said Mason, "is the happiest I've ever been."