Let's take the high road and refrain from being sucked into a debate on whether a shootout should decide a championship like the world junior hockey championship.
There really is no need to debate. Of course, these talented teenagers should not be subjected into deciding such a hard-fought, tightly contested title game with a skills competition.
Last night's gold-medal game in Montreal was a classic back-and-forth heavyweight bout — as U.S. head coach Bob Motzko predicted — and it should have been decided by a golden goal in overtime, no matter how many extra periods were needed.
These teams were so even. These teams delivered momentum swing after momentum swing.
That's also what makes the Stanley Cup final, or the Calder Cup, or the Memorial Cup or the University Cup so special: shootouts don't decide those championships.
Canada and the U.S. knew the rules going in. It's the International Ice Hockey Federation way. Just ask Joe Sakic, Trevor Linden and Wayne Gretzky whether they felt cheated at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano when goalie Dominik Hasek frustrated Canada in the semifinal shootout win for the Czech Republic.
If the Canadian juniors had won 5-4 in Thursday night's shootout, instead of the U.S., there would be no sour grapes in our country.
This one hurt
My heart goes out to the Canadian juniors. They built a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes and squandered it. They had a 4-2 lead with less than 16 minutes remaining in the third period and allowed the U.S. to score two quick goals to tie the game once again.
It will be difficult to forget the image of Canadian forward Nicolas Roy bawling afterward or backup goalie Connor Ingram jumping on the ice after the shootout to console his friend, goalie Carter Hart. This one hurt.
Canada's Pierre-Luc Dubois had the game on his stick but whiffed in the third period on a pinpoint pass from teammate Mathew Barzal. Julien Gauthier and Mitchell Stephens had missed goals on close calls for Canada in overtime. The power play was abysmal.
But defenceman Thomas Chabot, Canada's top player in the tournament that shifted from Toronto to Montreal for the finals, twice saved the day in Canada's crease to ensure the U.S. did not score a golden goal.
"We'll forever walk together," Motzko told his players afterward. But it didn't appear that way early on.
Instead, headline writers across the country had something like "Vive Le Quebec" on their mind. Quebecers Chabot, Jeremy Lauzon, Roy and Mathieu Joseph scored to put Canada in front 4-2.
The contribution from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is important because here was a loop that was the weak link in Canadian junior hockey. The QMJHL didn't win a Memorial Cup championship between the Cornwall Royals in 1981 and Granby Predateurs in 1996. Then coach Claude Julien followed up by leading Hull to the national championship in 1997. Brad Richards steered Rimouski to a Memorial Cup in 2000. The league expanded to the Atlantic provinces, then Sidney Crosby emerged on the scene, and now this QMJHL is just as strong the West and in Ontario.
It will be interesting to watch the progression of Chabot, an Ottawa Senators prospect. He played a remarkable 43 minutes, 53 seconds on Thursday.
He was so determined to make sure his roommate and defence partner, Philippe Myers, who was sidelined in this tournament with a concussion, went home with a gold.
But sloppiness crept into Canada's game after it went ahead 4-2. The Canadians stumbled with two poor clearing attempts and the U.S. took advantage to tie it.
Canada and the U.S. combined to score four goals on four straight shots in 5:15. It was an incredible stretch of hockey, maybe unique to the junior brand.
This was the third world junior title in the past eight years for the Americans, while Canada is holding with one gold since 2009.
But let's not panic. The game still is in a good place in this country. You don't win back-to-back men's Olympic gold medals, back-to-back world championships and the World Cup of Hockey by accident.
This was nothing more than a loss in a shootout. Like it or not.
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