It was not the game they wanted to be playing on this day. The Canadian Junior team had targeted the evening gold medal game, but a thrilling 6-5 loss to Russia in the semi-finals changed their plans. Now they were playing at the Calgary Saddledome in front of a home crowd in the bronze medal game against Finland, a team they beat on Boxing Day 8-1. Canada would be trying to extend its medal streak to 14 straight years, which is the longest by far.
As an aside, it would be Russia versus Sweden in the gold medal game. Russia was looking for back-to-back titles and Sweden would be looking for their first in an incredible 31 years.
Some lineup notes for the bronze medal game include Mark Visentin getting the call in nets. Boone Jenner was suspended one game after a spearing penalty in the semis and defenseman Scott Harrington was out injured. For Finland, defenseman Olli Maatta was still out injured from a Jenner hit in the first game of the tournament.
Canada was wearing their whites while Finland was in blue. There was a good atmosphere in the Saddledome despite the fact that there were some empty seats in the lower bowl and that the fans, like the players, must have been disappointed with the participation in the bronze medal game rather than the gold. The crowd was still energetic and loud. Even the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a big hockey fan, was in attendance cheering on the boys.
Showing that they have character and came to play, it was a good start for Canada and the Freddie Hamilton-Quinton Howden-Brett Connolly line. They kept the pressure on the Finns, who looked tired and demoralized from their overtime loss to the Swedes in the semi finals. It was a game in which they led and then ended up losing. The Finns seemed to be having trouble with the pace and exerted no pressure in the Canadian end over the first 15 minutes. This was surprising as Finland usually plays the bronze medal game like it is their gold.
Over that span the shots were 12-5 in favour of Canada. Only the stellar goaltending of Sami Aittokallio was keeping Finland in the game. Finland seems to be a goalie factory. In the past Vesa Toskala (Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks), Antero Niittymaki (Philadelphia Flyers) and Hannu Toivanen (St. Louis Blues) won starting jobs for their NHL teams. And today there is Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild), Pekke Rinne (Nashville Blue Jackets), Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames), Kari Lehtonen (Atlanta Thrashers), Tuuka Rask (Boston Bruins), and Antti Niemi (Chicago Black Hawsk, San Jose Sharks). Aittokallio had been raising his draft stock throughout the tournament. He led the tournament in save percentage after the round robin.
With Ville Pokke in the box for a tripping minor Canada struck for the first goal of the game and the only one that Visentin needed to win the game. It was Tanner Pearson’s first goal of the tournament off a beautiful set up by Mark Scheifele. Pearson just had to redirect the pass past Finnish goalie Sami Aittokallio. That was the only goal in the 1st period. Despite the fact that Canada had 15 shots and 4 power plays (including one short 5-on-3). Canada had a lot of shots and possession in the 1st, but not as many good looks at the net as you’d expect, especially given all their power play time.
Mark Visentin was forced to make a couple of good saves at the beginning of the 2nd period and as it usually happens after one of them his team went down the ice to score a goal. This time it was Scheifele who scored it and Pearson who did the setting up.
For a little excitement, in which was admittedly a pretty dull 2-0 game so far, the ref called a penalty shot against Canada. In his opinion Visentin threw his stick during a scramble in front of his net. This is an automatic penalty shot. It looked to me like he just dropped the stick while making a save. Anyways…no difference as Visentin made the argument mute when he stopped Teemu Pulkkinen. It was a big stop. Visentin did not bite on the big fake slapshot by Pulkkinen and then closed off the five hole.
Just before the end of the 2nd period (19:30) Canada pretty much iced the game with a Quinton Howden power play goal. Finland did not have it in them to come back from a three goal deficit.
Even though the game was pretty much the two teams going through the motions in the 3rd the crowd was still into it. They chanted “Go Canada go” at different points during the 3rd wanting a 4th goal. They were rewarded late in the period when Howden scored his 2nd of the game at 17:35. 4-0 is how the game ended. The bronze medal was Canada’s.
The bronze medal was not what Canada was here for. A disappointment, but better than nothing. There was a certain amount of pressure on the young men on Team Canada as the last time failed to win a medal was way back in 1998 (Finland won gold that year) and have extended the streak of winning a medal every time we have hosted the tournament (10 times). The Canadian team should be proud of themselves as they answered every question about their motivation level and internal drive. I felt great for goaltender Mark Visentin after how the tournament finished last year. He ended his Junior Team Canada career with a shutout. Canadian coach Don Hay also recorded his 12th win as a coach and that ties him for first with Brent Sutter and Craig Hartsburg.
For Finland they must have been disappointed that they came away with no medal, but their future looks bright. The Finns had a young team here in Alberta. For next year’s tournament in Russia they have 7 players who are eligible to come back. Amazingly on this year’s team they had 3 defensemen who were under 18. Fourth place is an accomplishment for a group so young.
This was an incredible World Junior Championship. The Finns lost their first game 8-1, but ended up in the semis. The U.S. did not make the medal round. Sweden being the comeback kids including fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to win the semis is overtime. And finally, Canada coming back from a 6-1 score at the beginning of the 3rd period to make it a tight 6-5 Russian victory. Could have been a very different result in that semi final game as Canada hit the post 5 times. After the Canada-Finland game it was the last time for the playing of Oh Canada. It happened a little earlier than we wanted to hear it, but it was still overall a successful tournament for Canada.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Vyacheslav Bulanov (Rus) and Ian Croft (USA)
Linesmen: Andre Schrader (Ger) and Christopher Woodworth (USA)
-Goals: 1st Period:
9:08: Canada – (pp) Tanner Pearson assisted by Mark Scheifele and Dougie Hamilton
5:35: Canada – Mark Scheifele assisted by Tanner Pearson
19:30: Canada – (pp) Quinton Howden assisted by Ryan Murray and Freddie Hamilton
17:35: Canada – Quinton Howden assisted by Brett Connolly and Freddie Hamilton
-Shots on Goal: Canada: 4
-Players of the Game: Canada: Mark Visentin
Finland: Ville Pokka
-Top 3 Players for Each Team (selected by coach of other team:
Canada: 1) Mark Stone
2) Brett Connolly
3) Brandon Gormley
Finland: 1) Joel Armia
2) Mikael Granlund
3) Sami Aittokallio
-Final Score: Canada: 4