Monday, January 5, 2009

(thank you TSN for the picture)

The Americans built a team specifically to stop them. The Russians came within 5.4 seconds of beating them. And the Swedes boldly stated that they would be the ones to finally put an end to their winning ways.

But in the end, Team Canada came out on top to win their fifth straight gold medal in the World Junior Championship and fifteenth overall. Tying the same amount of gold medals that the Soviet Union, CIS and Russia have won together. Looking at it purely from only currently existing countries, none come close to Canada.

Now enough with that. On to the game itself.

Man oh man, the road to the finals were tough. There were a lot of questions coming into this game against the Swedes. How would Tokarski fair? How would Canada's defense hold up against four strong Swedish scoring lines? And could Tavares and co get the puck past Jacob Markstrom who put up the best goaltender numbers throughout the tournament with a below 2 goals against average?

The answer? Magnificent, amazing, and you bet! Canada took the game 5-1 tonight in Ottawa.

Right from the start they looked good. Within 22 seconds they had forced a penalty for the Swedes and it was PK Subban who got the first goal past the Swedish goalie and lit the entire stadium on fire. I honestly can't wait till this guy can play in the NHL because I think he's going to be fantastic (of course I would say that considering a certain team that starts with M drafted him...). I loved how Canada played in the first period. They played very well defensively (which was the huge question coming in here), they put the Swedes completely out of their comfort zone by taking away their strong defensively-minded play, and Tokarski... well, he was great in the first period and he was only going to get better.

The second period saw things get messy for the Canadians. Starting right off the bat things got ugly quickly. Markstrom came out of the net and tried to clear the puck but Esposito tripped him. Now, it looked like a complete accident because Esposito was going to fast he couldn't have not hit the goalie. Anyway, Markstrom freaks out completely but no penalty was given to Esposito or Markstrom who also got in on the whole spat (and none was given to Hedman for trying to take Esposito's head off). Well, Esposito didn't have to wait that long for revenge. At 24:04 of the game he a got a very nifty goal past the Swedish goaltender. And then the penalties started coming. Esposito was the first to take one with high sticking. Patrice Cormier was technically next but as the call was made, Markstrom left the net. And at this point Della Rovere decided to hit him. Markstrom really got upset this time and hit back, so all three of them took penalties. Team Canada and especially Tokarski were amazing on the penalty killing and they were going to need to be because no soooner had the penalties to Cormier and Della Rovere ended then Aulie and Subban were to take penalties at 37:20 and 39:06 of the game. So the Swedes had 5 on 3 opportunity but nothing happened as Canada was brilliant on the penalty killing. Of course the highlight to this was that Backlund was also given a penalty at the very end of the period which was to put Canada on the powerplay for two minutes in the third period.

As it turned out Canada only needed 33 seconds into the period and the powerplay to score. Hodgson got his 4th goal of the tournament today as he ripped a shot at Markstrom which rang off the post and into the net. Oh man, why can't that happen to Kovalev?! He would have a billion goals by now. But anyway, the mess of penalties continued later in the third period but again Tokarski saved the day. Unfortunately, his shutout bid was snuffed out at 48:30 into the game when Andersson put one over his left shoulder. It was a beauty of a goal and for a while it gave the Swedes some momentum. For a while. It wasn't enough to stop Canada and when Markstrom was pulled at 57:19 it was only a matter of time before someone scored on an empty net. Eberle did what Klopov didn't in the semis and skated up and put the puck into the net, effectively ending Sweden's gold medal hopes. A minute later, Markstrom again left the net and this time Hodgson put it in. 5-1 Canada.

It was a fantastic way to the end the tournament if slightly anti-climatic, given what this team had to do to get here. But honestly, the Swedes didn't bring their "A" game tonight. From the start they didn't look dangerous - starting with Markstrom - and not being able to capitilize on the multitude of powerplay chances offered them hurt them big time. The momentum was almost always with Team Canada even when they had the man disadvantage. They just looked awesome out there. Better than I've seen them all tournament. Tokarski smashed any question marks anyone had about him away. Esposito proved that he belonged in this tournament after being cut three years in a row. Tavares may not have scored today but he had a lot of quality chances and it didn't mean that he didn't work really hard out there either.

This is the closest thing to hockey success that Ottawa's going to see for a while so they may have well enjoyed it. The packed house of 20k fans made it one wild night. They took a serious disliking to Victor Hedman as well as Markstrom and booed Hedman every time he touched the puck (which made me wonder if he wasn't actually Briere in disguise and this was actually Montreal. But I digress). It was great to see these guys so happy with the win. They deserved it. They started off shaky against the Americans but they roared back and took it. They came within 5.4 seconds of being kicked out of the tournament but Eberle fought back and scored a goal to send it to OT and eventually shootouts where he, Tavares and Tokarski shone. It was a amazing and I"m happy for myself too because my hockey curse has finally been lifted *g* Habs lost in the playoffs, my second choice of the Pens also lost. And inbetween that Team Canada fell to Russia in overtime. Nikita Filatov said it was like god was on the side of Team Canada when they won in the semis. Well, maybe it was just the hockey gods, but it would definitely seem like they were shining down on Team Canada this tournament.

The great:
  1. Tokarski. Tokarski. Tokarksi.
The good:
  1. Well, most of the game for Team Canada. I loved how they played in the first and third period. They did everything that they needed to to win.
  2. Penalty killing was stellar
The bad:
  1. I thought Markstrom came off as immature tonight. He took stupid penalties, over played his (seemingly) non-existant injures when he was whack a few times, and lost his cool on mutiple occaisions. The thing is though, just because he plays in one of the best leagues in the world still doesn't take away that he's still just a teenager. I found I really had to step back and go "wait a sec... he's still just 18 years old for crying out loud. No wonder he hasn't got full control of his emotions." I think he'll mature more but it was sort of not very cool to see how he did tonight.
  2. Victor Hedman has obviously not recovered from his shoulder injury. He looked like a shadow of the player he's supposed to be. This was too bad for him and everyone else who wanted to see him do well.
What I wish I could have seen:
  1. Tavares get one more goal. He was close tonight!
  2. Sweden put up more of an effort. They didn't look like the team that had dominated their half of the tournament. Or maybe Tokarski and the PK unit was just that good tonight?
What I wish I didn't have to see:
  1. all the penalties.
  2. the guys singing "Oh Canada". Love the enthusiasm but man... the singing was terrible *g*
And finally:
  1. Like the linguistically challeneged announcer said: "I don't think 'Whoo' was part of the lyrics of the national anthem but it is now."
  2. CONGRATULATIONS YOU GUYS! That was one heck of a tournament!
I will return tomorrow with random thoughts on how I thought this tournament went. As if you didn't already know *G*


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