Canada's junior team won't parlay NHL lockout into gold this time
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 6:59AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 3, 2013 12:34PM EST
UFA, Russia -- An NHL lockout has helped lift Canada to gold at past world junior hockey championships.
But not this time.
Canada dominated en route to gold in 1995 and 2005 when the NHL also locked out its players.
Another labour stoppage this year, meant coach Steve Spott had most of the country's top 19-year-old talent available to him, minus a forward and defenceman injured before the tournament.
But bronze is the best this Canadian team can do after a 5-1 loss to the United States in Thursday's semifinal.
The Americans and defending champion Sweden will play for gold, while Canada takes on Russia for bronze Saturday in Ufa. The Swedes edged the hosts 3-2 in a shootout in the other semifinal.
Canada must find solace in extending its run of medals in this tournament to 15 consecutive years.
"We've got to come home with a medal," captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's not the one we want to come home with, but we've got to do it for our country."
Canada beat both the U.S. and Russia en route to finishing first in its pool at 4-0 and earning the bye to the semifinal. But for the second straight year, Canada failed to parlay the bye into a berth in the gold-medal game because of a semifinal loss.
"For it to happen again, it's pretty heartbreaking," said second-year forward Mark Scheifele.
The International Ice Hockey Federation is doing away with the bye starting in 2014, so the tournament will feature four quarter-finals instead of two.
Playing a quarter-final doesn't seem to be an impediment to gold. Three of the last five champions played a quarter-final and the U.S. could do that this year too.
So while the Americans flexed their goal-scoring muscles in a 7-0 win over the Czech Republic in Wednesday's quarter-final, the Canadians vowed after their practice the same day they couldn't have a slow start Thursday.
They then went out and did just that. The firepower that Canada purportedly had up front did not fire.
Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome would probably have joined Nugent-Hopkins in the NHL this season if not for the lockout. All four were held off the scoresheet.
When Spott chose his 23 players at selection camp in Calgary last month, he said he did so with speed in mind. It was the Americans who made Canada look like they were standing still for two periods Thursday.
Led by swift Calgary Flames prospect John Gaudreau and American captain Jake McCabe, the U.S. beat Canada to the puck at both ends of the ice for 40 minutes to build a 4-0 lead.
Unlike last year's 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia in Calgary, where Canada scored four third-period goals, this Canadian team didn't rally to make it close.
Ty Rattie's short-handed goal early in the third might have provided the spark, if Gaudreau didn't then score his second of the game and Canada didn't take two minor penalties in the last five minutes.
"They came out hot. We came out not so hot," Rattie said.
Canada had beaten the U.S. 2-1 in pool play despite missing two forwards because of suspensions.
Spott wanted his team to generate more even-strength scoring chances in the medal round with 13 forwards in the mix, but the Canadians didn't have the puck on their sticks very much against the U.S.
"We feel our preparation was right," Spott said. "Why we were flat today, that's something we'll have to address.
"Maybe we should have gone in before the game and kicked up a little bit more of a storm, but we haven't done that yet. We haven't had to so we didn't want to go in there today and do anything different to alarm the kids or get them on edge. Maybe that's something if you go back in time, you'd do different."
Defenceman Dougie Hamilton and forward Boone Jenner were also candidates to play in the NHL this season. Canada had six players returning from the team that won bronze in 2012 and an NHL player in Edmonton's Nugent-Hopkins.
It begs the question: What would this Canadian team have looked like if not for the lockout?
With all the best 19-year-olds available to him, Spott named 17-year-old forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin to this team and moved Drouin to the top line for the last two games.
That may speak to the talent level of the two NHL draft prospects, but also signals a lack of talent depth among Canadian players born in 1993.
Canada lost defenceman Ryan Murphy, the No. 2 pick in this year's NHL draft, to a shoulder injury prior to selection camp.
After naming forward Charles Hudon to the team, Spott sent him home from training camp in Finland with a back injury and hastily summoned Mark McNeill from the Prince Albert Raiders.
Canada's travel to the tournament was the most arduous since Moscow hosted the event in 2001. Hockey Canada had a comprehensive plan to deal with jet lag and travel fatigue.
For the third time in four years, Canada switched goaltenders during a game that determined a medal colour, although starter Malcolm Subban can't be faulted for the loss.
Canada's defence was in complete disarray in front of him on the first U.S. goal and was porous on the next two scored by the Americans. After a fourth goal by the U.S. on 16 shots, Jordan Binnington made his first appearance in the tournament and made 25 saves.
"It had nothing to do with Malcolm at all," Spott said. "We left him out to dry and the goals they scored were quality goals. It was more than anything trying to give our team a little bit of a shot of adrenaline. I was not disappointed with Malcolm at all."
Spott knows U.S. goaltender John Gibson well because the American plays for him on the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.
But Canada couldn't solve him even with that knowledge. Gibson stoned an all-alone Strome in the second period and made 33 saves for the win.
Canada has won gold in this tournament 15 times, including a run of five straight from 1993 to 1997 and 2005 to 2009.
Spott says even with the players he had at his disposal, winning gold was never a given here.
"It's not our divine right to win gold medals," he said. "This is a global sport now.
"I understand the pressure, as a staff we understand the pressure that comes when you have a team with some of the firepower we have. But these are all quality teams and they're all world-class teams and when you get down to one game, anything can happen in junior hockey. We've all seen that."