Canada Loses To Russia In Semifinal

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Canada loses to Russia in semifinal

Their success has become such a given, their default position domination, that when Canada’s representatives at the world junior hockey championship don’t live up to the national expectation — gold or bust — it qualifies as a shock.

So went Tuesday night’s shocker at the Saddledome: For the first time in 11years, Canada won’t be playing for teenaged-hockey supremacy. Instead, a skilled and rugged team from Russia, 6-5 winners over Canada in a wild semifinal, will attempt to repeat as world champions on Thursday against Sweden, 3-2 winners over Finland in Tuesday’s other semifinal.

The Canadians will face the Finns for bronze, or, alternatively, for the possibility of being left out of the medals for the first time since 1998.

Certainly the home team could not be accused of giving up. Down 6-1 with about 12 minutes to play in regulation,the Canadians rallied for four goals in a 6:23 span to trail 6-5. A year earlier, of course, the Russians had scored five unanswered third-period goals to stun Canada and win the world title. And here came Canada, on the precipice of returning the favour. With Canada’s goalie pulled, Ryan Strome hit a post in the dying moments. Though Canada commanded the Russian zone for long stretches, there was no equalizer to be had.

“I think everyone wanted that gold really badly,” said Dougie Hamilton, the Canadian defenceman.“It hurts a lot.”

Said Don Hay, the Canadian coach: “I was really happy with the way we battled back … but when you get down 6-1, it’s a long hole to come (out of). We had to be better early, and we weren’t.”

For all of the home team’s heroics, it was difficult to make a case that the visitors didn’t deserve the victory.

The Russians came into the game as something of a sleeping bear.

They had needed overtime to win Monday’s quarter-final over Czech Republic, a team Canada had drubbed 5-0 in the round robin. But on Tuesday they were, at their best, a different animal altogether.

The best two players on the ice for most of the night were Russian.

Evgeni Kuznetsov, the Washington Capitals’ prospect and the only alumnus of the team that stunned Canada with last year’s legendary third-period outburst, scored three goals. Nail Yakupov, the Sarnia Sting winger who reaffirmed his claim as the consensus first overall pick in the coming NHL draft, added four assists and, at age 18, often dominated the action in a tournament usually ruled by 19-year-olds.

“We win. Russia wins. Russia better than Canada,” Yakupov boasted in broken English after it was over. “See you next time.”

The Canadians, for much of the evening, couldn’t rise to Russia’s bravado. Canada’s starting goal tender, Scott Wedgewood of Brampton, allowed four goals on 13 shots before he was pulled after he was bowled over in his crease by a Russian assailant. Mark Visentin, Wedgewood’s replacement, allowed Russia’s fifth goal on just the second shot he faced. For a long while, it looked as though it just wasn’t Canada’s night. Even a first-intermission ceremony showcasing a few dozen Canadian alumni of world-junior tournaments past went awry when the microphone-holding arena host introduced Pat Quinn, coach of the 2009 gold medallists, as “Pat Burns,” the late coaching legend.

And it took a while for it to get much better on the ice. The Russians struck first and hard. Kuznetsov opened the scoring 7:26 into the game on a brilliant pass from Yakupov. A little more than seven minutes later, Nikita Nesterov’s point shot through traffic made it 2-0.

And while Brett Connolly, the Tampa Bay Lightning forward who was Canada’s best of the tournament by some margin, made it 2-1 early in the second period, the Russians kept coming.

A little more than six minutes later Kuznetsov had his second and third goals— the third on a 2-on-0 precipitated by a criminally inept Canada line change. The Russian captain celebrated his hat trick with a head-first slide across the blue line, dispelling the pre-game theory the Russians would be heavy in the legs coming off Monday’s overtime. The visitors would make it 5-1 before the second intermission, and they certainly didn’t endear themselves to the raucous sellout crowd.

The Russians embellished contact in their grand tradition. And when a replay was shown on the video boards of goaltender Andrei Vasilevski levelling a stick to the face of Pearson after a goal mouth melee, boos panned the transgression.

The Canadians, who’d been mostly untested in the tournament before Wednesday, didn’t help themselves with headiness. Boone Jenner took a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for spearing Kuznetsov late in the second period, this after Jenner was levelled on an illegal hit that drew a two-minute penalty,not to mention a power play Canada could have desperately used.

Nathan Beaulieu took a third-period tripping minor and, instead of getting back on defence, lamented his lot to the referee while Russia made it 6-1 on the delayed-penalty rush.

And just when Canada was making its third-period rally —goals by Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz,

Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Gormley bringing the score to 6-5 with 5:43 to go — Jonathan Huberdeau, whose skill could have come in handy in the charge, had experienced most of the excitement inthe box serving a 10-minute misconduct for banging his stick on the ice in protest of some injustice or another.

Ingloriously, if tirelessly, a decade-plus dynasty was, for an evening, defeated.

“We made mistakes you can’t make,” said Connolly.

“It sucks.”

Dave Feschuck

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