Canada has left the World Junior Hockey Championships without a medal. Russia knocked off the Canadians by a final score of 6-5, putting the cap on a wild Saturday game with Valeri Nicushkin’s overtime winner. The Americans took home the gold medal, knocking off the Swedes 3-1.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “I think all the guys in the room are. We battled hard, but fourth is not what Canada wants.”
Goalie Jordan Binnington got the start for the Canadians, but after letting in a pair of goals on five shots he was pulled and Malcolm Subban was back in. Subban had previously been pulled on Thursday during Canada’s contest with the Americans after letting in four goals on 16 shots.
Regardless of the particulars, the disappointment stings. The Canadians haven’t done this poorly in the tournament since 1998, but the level of international competition has significantly increased on the world stage and the country’s hockey supremacy is no longer a sure thing.
The Americans proved their worth with the gold medal performance and the Swedish club was not far behind. The Swedes, after all, took home the gold medal last year and look to be building some serious contenders. And nobody can knock the Russians, who’ve shown up and put up a solid fight each time they’ve been called upon.
But despite not showing up against the Americans when it counted, the Canadians were no slouches either. Under head coach Steve Spott, who has a history of coaching some truly great teams and players, the young Canadians took home a dynamic learning experience and grew through diversity.
The Canadians did lose the first pre-tourney game against Finland, sure, and they did need a shoot-out to knock off the Swedes. They lost Charles Hudon early and did without Boone Jenner thanks to a three-game suspension. They struggled with penalties. They had inconsistent goaltending.
But they also played really, really well against Russia and did okay against the Americans, even allowing Subban to get some of his mojo back in goal. The Canadians landed a bye after the preliminary round and got set for the semifinals against the Americans. We all know how that went.
The Americans, meanwhile, pushed to the end. They had stronger goaltending in John Gibson, who was the tournament’s MVP, and seemed a more disciplined squad overall. They had several players rise in value, got good hockey out of the likes of Rocco Grimaldi and Vincent Trocheck, and look to be a force to be reckoned with. They earned the gold medal.
So while Canada doesn’t have to go back to the drawing board and the nation doesn’t have to be collectively crying into its beer just yet, this may be the opportunity once more to check and re-check over its shoulder. Exciting things are happening on the world hockey stage.