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World Junior heartbreak shouldn’t overshadow young talent

By David Song, January 10 2016 —

For Canada and international hockey, anything less than gold is a bust. It can be difficult to swallow the United States’ thrilling comeback win in the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship final. A resilient and talented American squad twice overcame two-goal deficits to win gold in a shootout, leaving Canada with what can feel like the ugliest medal of all — silver.

But despite the heartbreak, we should acknowledge how far our Canadian juniors came this year. The team never stopped battling and different players stepped up at vital junctures, leading to an ultimately impressive run. Canada opened the tournament on Boxing Day with a 5–3 win against a dangerous Russian unit, before hammering Slovakia 5–0. Their next game was an even more impressive 10–2 rout of Latvia. Next came the first of two meetings with the U.S. and it was here that Canada faltered.

Despite six power-play opportunities — including a five-minute major — Canada only scored one goal on Dec. 31 and ultimately fell to their rivals 3–1. The Americans looked faster and more poised while Canada’s offence was plagued with inaccurate passes, sloppy decisions and an inability to cash in on scoring opportunities. They also lost defenceman Philippe Myers, who was concussed by a hard hit from American centre Luke Kunin.

Questions surrounded the Canadian squad going into the quarterfinal, but they prevailed against the Czech Republic with a 5–3 effort. This meant a date with Sweden in the semifinal, a game in which many viewed Canada as an underdog. Having won 40 consecutive round-robin matches going into Jan. 4, the Swedes were hungry for success and boasted a fearsome, mobile offence.

After falling behind 2–0 in the first period, Canada rallied and defeated Sweden in the semifinal. Credit is due for netminder Carter Hart of the
Everett Silvertips, who replaced Connor Ingram in goal and made 28 straight saves after Ingram gave up two. The line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier overwhelmed Swedish defenders with their relentless forecheck, while top blueliner Thomas Chabot played more than 30 minutes to replace the injured Myers.

Unlike their first bout against the U.S., the Canadians started fast, building a 2–0 lead in the first frame. The U.S. struck back to even the score in the second, only for Canada to re-establish a two-goal lead partway through the third period.

Again, the Americans retaliated, tying the game at 4–4 seven minutes into the third. Overtime would solve nothing, as both teams traded power plays and golden opportunities. U.S. goaltender Tyler Parsons matched Hart save for save, forcing a shootout after 80 minutes of game action. Here, the U.S. finally broke Canada, as forward Troy Terry scored the only goal in five rounds to claim gold.

Though the end is bittersweet, Canada’s journey to the top at the 2017 World Juniors is worth remembering. The gold medal match was an instant classic and a silver medal still puts Canada among the very best in the world. Canadian fans should rest easy knowing that talented young players like Hart, Chabot and captain Dylan Strome represent the next generation of hockey in our nation.

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