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Old 06-01-15, 12:54   #1
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Total Awards: 5

Hockey Canada Defeats Russia 5-4 to Claim First World Junior Hockey Gold Since 2009

Canada's Anthony Duclair is congratulated by teammates Max Domi and Shea Theodore after scoring 23 seconds into the game

Team Russia's Ziyat Paigin is checked into the boards by Team Canada's Curtis Lazar

You can breathe again, Canada.

Chances are you may still need to after what unfolded Monday at the world juniors, a gold-medal final that will be remembered as one of the most entertaining, crazy 60 minutes of hockey in a tournament filled with white knucklers over the years.

Team Canada prevailed, but only barely, eking out a desperate 5-4 win after nearly blowing a four-goal lead in an ugly second period as Russia came storming back.

Pretty, this was not. Russia outshot them 30-21 – including 21-5 to end the game – a marvelous rally from a team that had every reason to pack it in down 5-1.

But rather than let it get away from them, Canada found a way to hang on and hang in until it was over and they had the gold, this country’s first since 2009 – a near eternity by Canadian standards.

“Heavy,” said big winger Jake Virtanen when asked how it felt to have the medal around his neck, a big grin on the Vancouver Canucks prospect’s face and a bright red world champions T-shirt on his chest.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to get this feeling again,” teammate Darnell Nurse added.

Canada’s eventual elation felt all the more pronounced after an emotional, rollercoaster night, one where they roared out to very early lead and kept steadily building on it until it looked like the makings of a rout.

Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair started it by swatting in Canada’s opening goal on the first rush, continuing his team’s tournament-long trend of getting the first goal and playing with a lead game after game.

With the crowd still in a throaty roar, they struck an awestruck Russian side again two minutes later. This time, third-liner Nick Paul did the honours, showcasing Canada’s offensive depth with a goal from the 19-year-old Ottawa Senators prospect who has 19 in 27 OHL games.

Russia switched goalies, 2:32 in.

It looked desperate, but a 2-0 lead in a world junior game is hardly the same thing as a 2-0 lead anywhere else – not when these games can flip on a single bounce, as the Canadians learned all too painfully in coughing up this same final against this same side four years earlier despite a 3-0 advantage entering the third period.

As expected, Russia came roaring back Monday and the game turned into a seesaw, up and down the ice, with big hits and a few nice chances before defenceman Dmitri Yudin pulled his team to down 2-1 with a high, hard shot from the top of the circle.

Canada goaltender Zach Fucale makes a save as Russia's Pavel Buchnevich looks for the rebound

One Russian – defenceman Ziat Paigin – pounded on the glass, taunting fans.

Another – Alexander Sharov – took a roughing penalty, an odd sort of celebration for getting back to within one.

It was early, but they’d made themselves easy to hate for a wild, sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd that was eager to oblige.

The ping-pong continued into the second until Canada found an opening five minutes in. Defenceman Josh Morrissey spotted Connor McDavid with what was basically a three-line pass that sent the consensus top pick in June’s draft in alone.

He looked, picked his spot five-hole and, like that, it was 3-1.

The ACC, loud all tournament, hit another level as McDavid – grinning and chewing his mouth guard behind a cage – high fived his teammates at the bench.

This was Canada pulling away, with a nearly 2-to-1 edge on the shot clock and a two-goal lead that quickly became three and four soon thereafter.

“This is our house,” the crowd chanted, with half a game to go.

But Russia still wasn’t going anywhere, even down 5-1.

As Canada sat back, they took penalties, four in a row – charging, boarding, tripping and hooking – in the second alone. They received the play, too, eventually allowing three unanswered goals in a little more than three minutes as netminder Zach Fucale began to wilt under the pressure.

This Canadian team that hadn’t faced any adversity all tournament – outscoring minnows like Denmark and Slovakia (twice) an absurd 34-5 in six games on an easy road – was finally handed a gut punch.

Russia's Sergei Tolchinski is dumped by Canada's Sam Reinhart

Everything they had seemingly put in the past – the baggage of past teams, the Buffalo collapse in 2011, the drought – was back in play, at least psychologically, the gorilla on the home side’s back with a slim 5-4 lead entering the final 20 minutes.

“We were kind of panicking,” Virtanen admitted.

“I’m not going to lie – we were a little bit tense,” Morrissey added, crediting coach Benoit Groulx for calming the team down in the intermission. “Those were some pretty tense moments. It was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of. I guess that’s junior hockey.”

What had been a wide-open game then tightened dramatically in the third. Chances were few and far between as Canada clamped down defensively, making few forays into the offensive zone.

Those shots that got through, both ways, drew gasps from the crowd as they sailed wide or into the goalies’ pads.

It felt as though the next goal would decide it, but then that next goal never came, with Fucale awkwardly swatting several dangerous pucks down and his defence collapsing in front of him and clearing the puck.

With little separating these two hockey powers – both powerhouse rosters that deserved to be 1-2 in the end – that was ultimately the difference.

“We’re a real strong team,” Nurse said. “You just have the belief in your talent and what got us to this point. That’s what we said [when Russia rallied]. We still had the full-on belief.”

That may well have been part of the difference, especially with so many on edge over past failures at this event.

Earlier in the day, Hockey Canada president Tom Renney had sounded defensive when asked at a team presser about what six years without gold, should they lose, would mean to the country.

“Eighteen consecutive years in the semi-final,” he said sharply. “I think we are doing okay.”

Now there’s no need for those qualifiers.

Canada is on top again.

Russia goalie Ilya Sorokin looks down after being scored on by Canada

“Ears are still ringing a little bit from it,” Curtis Lazar said of the noise in the building, which erupted with the final buzzer as players spilled out of the bench to swarm Fucale and sing the anthem. “But it was awesome.”

“The weight is off our shoulders,” Morrissey said.

And, other than the medal, it is.

Canadian players celebrate Canada's 5-4 win over Russia


IIHF Directorate award winners:

Top Forward – Max Domi (Canada)

Top Defenceman – Vladislav Gavrikov (Russia)

Top Goaltender – Denis Godla (Slovakia)

Most Valuable Player – Denis Godla (Slovakia)

Media all-star team:

G – Denis Godla (Slovakia)

D – Gustav Forsling (Sweden)

D – Josh Morrissey (Canada)

F – Max Domi (Canada)

F – Connor McDavid (Canada)

F – Sam Reinhart (Canada)
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