What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time Canada’s entry into the World Junior Hockey Championship had just lost to Finland in a quarter-final game. The fact that the tournament was hosted by Canada only magnified the loss.
As is usually the case when one of our hockey teams loses a best-on-best tournament, it created somewhat of a national crisis in the sporting world: Were we still the best?
One year later, the team and country basked in the glory of a comeback win in the gold medal game against Russia and all was good in the hockey world again.
In reality, results from last year and last week could have easily been different. Each tournament featured games that could have gone either way.
In the loss to Finland last year, Canada missed a breakaway in the third period, gave up a fluky goal in the dying minutes that forced overtime, missed a penalty shot in the extra period, and a player’s stick broke when he had a wide open net to shoot at, also in overtime. Seconds later, Finland scored the winner, en route a third championship in six years.
Sometimes it’s all about the bounces. Finland got them last year; this year, in the end, they went Canada’s way, and another crisis was avoided.
Trailing 3-1 midway through the third period against Russia, a shot bounced off a Canadian player’s leg and into the net. Shortly after, the team’s captain, who wasn’t expected to play due to an injury in the semi-final, tied the score with a power play goal.
After taking the lead with a few minutes to play, the inevitable happened: we took a penalty, a common occurrence for Canada when leading by one goal near the end of a knock-out game. Is there some kind of conspiracy?
Then came the biggest bounce of all. While attempting to kill that penalty, a Canadian clearing attempt sailed over the plexiglass, which is an automatic penalty. However, the puck bounced off of a camera belonging to a Canadian broadcaster and back onto the ice. Play was stopped, but for some reason, Canada was not assessed another penalty, which would have resulted in a lengthy five on three opportunity for Russia to tie the game, or six on three if they pulled their goaltender. Who knows what would have happened in that case?
The chain of events were surprising and exhilarating, except perhaps from a Russian point of view. Were the hockey gods balancing out last year’s result by tilting the ice in Canada’s favour?
Canada has now won three gold medals in the last six years. Are we still the best? Finland might have something to say about that, but for 2020, we are the champions.