A Russian team with a flair for drama took advantage of a devastating Canadian collapse and claimed the gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.
Trailing 3-0 going into the third period, Russia scored five times in the final 20 minutes in a 5-3 win over Canada that doused the energy of a full house of Maple Leaf-clad fans at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
Artemi Panarin, Maxim Kitsyn and Vladimir Tarasenko struck quickly in the opening 7:29 of the period, then Panarin scored the game-winner with 4:38 left to play, taking the wind out of the partisan crowd of 18,690.
“This is the worst feeling I’ve ever had,” Canadian defenceman Tyson Barrie said.
The quick goals by the Russians evoked images of their late comeback wins over Finland and Sweden in their two previous games. They did it again when the gifted Tarasenko stole and puck behind the Canadian net and fed Panarin for the tournament-winning goal.
Nikita Dvurechenski ended any hope of a Canadian comeback when he beat Mark Visentin at 18:44.
“I don’t think we ran out of gas, they just took over,” Canada forward Zack Kassian said. “Hockey is a weird sport. Sometimes you have momentum swings and you just can’t stop it. We didn’t fold the tent. They just kept coming and coming and we stopped getting the bounces and it made us look like we were standing still.
“We were ready to go in the third, but they just took off and we couldn’t find our game.”
Scoring sensation Brayden Schenn, named most valuable player of the tournament, had a goal and set up another to pass Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros and tie the team record for points in one world junior of 18 set in 1977 by Dale McCourt.
“It’s pretty tough to take right now, hard to believe,” Schenn said. “If only you could go back in time and do it over again I’m sure it would be a different result for our team. It is what it is, it obviously wasn’t meant to be for us. It was a tough third period there.”
Schenn was playing despite separating his right shoulder in Canada’s quarter-final game against Switzerland.
Ryan Ellis and Carter Ashton scored in the first period for Canada, which looked to have the game safely in the bag until the monumental collapse in the third.
“I don’t think we ran out of gas, they just took over. Hockey is a weird sport. Sometimes you have momentum swings and you just can’t stop it. We didn’t fold the tent. They just kept coming and coming and we stopped getting the bounces and it made us look like we were standing still." - Canada forward Zack Kassian
As the final buzzer sounded, the Russians leapt from their bench and sprawled over each other on the ice as dejected Canadians skated to the boards with their heads down.
Canada settled for silver for a second straight year, losing last year’s final 6-5 in overtime to the U.S. This loss wasn’t any easier for the returning players on Canada’s roster.
“A thousand times worse,” defenceman Calvin de Haan said when comparing Wednesday’s loss to the 2010 silver. “It’s disappointing. I’m just in shock now. I don’t know what to say. Things happen for a reason and I guess this was meant to be.”
Earlier in the day, the overwhelming presence of Canadian fans drew praise from local organizers and international officials, who credited them with creating a passionate atmosphere for the tournament.
Even at Wednesday afternoon’s bronze-medal game, won 4-2 by the United States over Sweden, they chanted “Canada, Canada.” A few disgruntled American fans started yelling “Russia, Russia” as the clock ticked down.
But the Americans have been no match for their Canadian counterparts. During Monday’s semifinal romp over the host United States for instance, Canadians began chanting, “This is our house!”
No one was in position to argue with them, either, so much so that Buffalo Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn quipped that he hoped to “host an event for USA Hockey sometime, I was really happy to host for Canada this year.”
Organizers said they anticipated a total attendance exceeding 330,000, making it the second-most attended world junior hockey championship. A record 453,282 took in the 2009 event in Ottawa.
Most of the back and forth with American hockey supporters has been good natured, too, but some have been irked by the way some Canadians have acted like they own the place.
“I would cheer for Afghanistan over Canada, OK?” said one American fan. “Anybody but Canada.”