Saturday, 5 January 2008

Four Straight

Canada has once again brought home gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships by defeating Sweden 3-2 in overtime in Pardubice, Czech Republic. A goal by Matthew Halischuk has put Canada on top of the world once again. There will be people who say that Canada didn't deserve it. There will be people who say that Canada wasn't the better of the two teams in the final. However, this gold medal is just as sweet as the other 13 gold medals Canada has earned. Canada is once again the best in the world.

Canada will play on home ice in Ottawa next season as the five-time defending champions, and will have up to 10 players available to represent them as they look to make it five in a row. They should be ready for the challenge, but there will be a few teams standing in their way. The Americans, the Russians, and the Swedes will all have solid teams, and should provide excellent competition.

"Our kids just grabbed the rope and said 'You know what? We'll find a way to get this thing done,'" head coach Craig Hartsburg told the Canadian Press.

Canada doesn't just attend these tournaments to play well. They attend to win a gold medal, and that's what they do. "We come to this tournament only wanting one thing and that's to win that gold medal," captain Karl Alzner declared. "For us players, nothing else matters besides showing how hard we can play, showing our hearts and coming first. Second just doesn't cut it with us."

Team Canada always talked about the gold medal, even when facing adversity and after losses. Nothing broke this team's spirit, and they certainly deserved the gold medal as much as anyone else.

There were some serious questions about Canada's medal defence. Stefan Legein, the Niagara IceDogs and Columbus Blue Jackets forward, left after just one shift with a separated right shoulder injury and was out for the rest of the game. However, he certainly wasn't missed during the medal ceremony as he celebrated with his teammates. "It's hard to feel pain when there is a big medal around your neck," the happy Legein told TSN after the game.

There were also questions about goaltender Steve Mason, despite his performance against the Americans. Mason, the newest Kitchener Ranger after a trade from the OHL's London Knights, was named the tournament's top goaltender and most valuable player after leading his team to gold.

Mason was outstanding in Canada's 4-1 semifinal win over the U.S. on Friday in stopping 33 of 34 shots on the same day his junior rights were traded from the London Knights to Kitchener. He followed that up with another spectacular performance against Sweden, especially in the third period where Sweden outshot Cananda 14-3.

"I came a long way," Mason said to the Canadian Press. "Coming into the tournament, there was a lot of question marks as to who was going to be starting in net. There was a lot of pressure on myself and I grew as a person and I learned how to deal with a lot of things.

"I'm proud of the way I handled it, but I'm more proud of the way the team reacted in a lot of the situations we went through."

I think an entire nation is proud as well. It was the second straight gold for captain Karl Alzner and forward Brad Marchand, who were the only two returning players from the last year's Canadian squad. It was also the third gold medal for head coach Craig Hartsburg, who was an assistant in 2006 to Brent Sutter and head coach last year in Sweden.

Overall, this tournament had excitement, drama, intrigue, and action. Of course, it helps when you win, and I am proud of the Canadian kids for their work in winning another gold medal. However, the Swedish team can't be disappointed. They brought home their first medals since 1996. They should take some solace in knowing that they have inproved every year since 2000, and are once again viewed as a hockey power.

Congratulations, Team Canada! You deserve it, and I'm looking forward to Ottawa in 2009. It's going to be one heck of a party along the Rideau Canal!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Frank N. Stein said...

Not as dominate as the previous years and they really had me worried when the gold medal game headed to overtime. But I suppose that’s what made this year so exciting. See everyone in Ottawa next year!

Kirsten said...

For real. If you guys can make Grand Forks, North Dakota into a massive party, I'm sure Ottawa will be a piece of cake.