Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yeah, I definitely cursed it: Russia 5, Canada 3

The game: World Junior gold medal game, Canada vs. Russia.

You could say they defended their silver medal: But that's not what happened as Canada lost 5-3 to Russia after leading 3 - 0 going into the third period. Russia scored 5 unanswered goals in the third, three of which happened within five minutes of each other.

Maybe they should have changed places with the Pittsburgh Penguins: Who beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 8 - 1 in their first post-Winter Classic game. I've said it before, I'll say it again. You don't want to play the Pens in the wake of recent losses. They are the kings of comeback.

The only question was who didn't score?: Well, actually, Sidney Crosby. Or Steven Stamkos. But Crosby did grab an assist, so the streak is back.

Alas, comeback was not the order of the day for Canada: I believe one of my friends calls it a thermonuclear meltdown: Plain and simple...they let the game slip away. Russia took over and Canada never got back in it. But that doesn't mean Ryan Johansen's star shined any less brightly, that Jaden Schwartz was any less brave or that Brayden Schenn was any less spectacular. It just means that they learned one of life's biggest lessons at the worst of all times: never take anything you have for granted. You never know when you might lose it.

So yeah, I think it's safe to say I definitely cursed hockey this week: But the good news is, I don't think there are anymore epic, life-changing games I can ruin.

Morals of the story: Like life, a hockey game (or tournament) never goes the way you planned. And rarely just the way you wanted. Canada thought they had Russia under control, and they didn't. Nino Niederreiter went into the tournament with a promotion from breakout star to Captain and he ended up in the box during a crucial game. And Jaden Schwartz after already having been through more than enough, broke his ankle early on and wasn't able to even try to help his team on the ice. I truly do hope that one day the boys realize that warts and third period meltdowns and all, there was beauty in the midst of the disapointment:

1) Prize for coming back to still do well: Switzerland still finished at a strong 5th place, earning them a chance to return next year. They will play in Group A in Calgary. Hey! You learn something new every day: not every team in the world gets to join the fun. Only the top 10 teams are eligible to attend and compete in the World Juniors. And next year it will be in Canada (Calgary and Edmonton). No, I didn't know that. Go ahead, Facebook, Twitter, call your friends. I'll wait. In the meantime, allow me to issue a safety warning for Team Canada: Boys, if you lose again next year on home ice, you will need to enter the junior leagues' player witness protection program, where you will be forced to watch a loop reel of this year's game at least three times a day and the background music in restaurants, stores and elevators will consist of fans booing you.

2) Prize for oustanding sportsmanship and teamwork: Jaden Schwartz's teammates helping him literally hop out onto the ice to receive his medal. It almost made you forget the score, and it definitely reminded you that the players are better than what happened in that third period.

3) They're all stars in Portland too: Ryan Johansen was named to the tournament's all star team, Nino got promoted to Captain and Sven Bartschi made his first trip to the tournament. I guarantee you when the conquering heroes return, they will be welcomed. Damn the third period meltdowns and fifth place finishes.

4) Meanwhile the younglings did very nicely too, thank you very much: Over at the Under-17 World Challenge, Portland Winterhawks Derrick Pouliot and Brendan Leipsic were named Captain and Alternate Captain of Team West, respectively. They also racked up some pretty serious points and assists, and although it wasn't quite enough for a medal, they finished a still-respectable 6th.

Bottom line: Even two years ago, Winterhawks fans did not have international tournaments to cheer for, or players in prospects games or anything else of the sort. Disappointing though the final outcomes may have been, I hope one day the boys who trekked across the country or across the border realize that what they did these past few weeks was still pretty remarkable. And maybe, if we're really lucky, the hard lessons of this year's tournament will be our gain in the stretch run and the playoffs. Wanting to win is never enough. No matter what the score, the way to win is to do as the Russians did and play like you need to. And you never take any team or game for granted. Hurry back, boys. We have struggled through our own losses without you, and that, I think, will be enough of that.

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