How to describe Team Canada's pulse-pounding 6-5 shootout win over Russia in Saturday's semifinal at the World Junior Championship?
I don't know, but I have never been more proud to be Canadian.
If we have learned one thing about Team Canada during its run of four straight WJC championships, it is this: No matter how hopeless the situation seems, no matter how down-and-out this bunch gets, the players who don the red, black, and white always find a way to get it done.
I must admit that when Dmitry Klopov flicked the puck over Dustin Tokarski's right skate with two minutes and change left in the third, I wasn't too worried. This is Team Canada. They'll pull through. Right?
Well, by the time the clock ticked down to 20 seconds left, that hope had packed its bags and headed south. I was sure the drive for five was over.
And then, with under 10 seconds to go, John Tavares threw the puck on net in one last valiant attempt to force overtime. Jordan Eberle, who had been the best Canadian on the ice through 59 minutes of play, drove the net, stole the puck from the knees of a Russian blueliner who had blocked the shot, and slipped in a backhander with just 5.4 seconds remaining, sending the entire country into euphoria.
I just shook my head and smiled, full of pride. Somehow, against the longest of odds, this crew had once again shown why Canada is the capital of heart-and-soul hockey.
With neither team being able to break the deadlock after 10 minutes of overtime, I breathed a little easier. I knew Dustin Tokarski was a better goaltender than Vadim Zhelobnyuk, and while the Russians certainly had a skilled collection of forwards, the Canadians were no slouches either with scorers like Tavares, Eberle and Cody Hodgson.
Thomas Hickey won the coin toss for Canada and chose to shoot first. Eberle stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park (sorry, wrong sport?) with a high backhander. Capitals draft pick Dmitri Kugryshev followed that up by ringing one off the post.
Tavares went second for the Canadians and beat Zhelobnyuk with a forehand wrister to put some serious pressure on the Russians. Inexplicably, Russian head coach Sergei Nemchinov elected to shoot Pavel Chernov next, and Tokarski stopped his five-hole attempt to wrap up the win for Canada.
No Nikita Filatov? No Evgeny Grachev? After keeping his best players on the ice late in the quarter-final rout over the Czechs and horribly mismanaging the Super Series against Canada in 2007, I am starting to seriously question Nemchinov's tactical ability as a coach.
Regardless, the Canadians move on to face Sweden in Monday's gold medal game, just as most pundits predicted before the tournament.
But with Team Canada narrowly getting past the Americans and Russians, and with Sweden nearly falling to the upstart Slovakians, it certainly has not unfolded the way most observers expected.
It's Canada versus Sweden for the second year in a row. May the best team win, and whatever happens, may we always be proud of these Canadians for gritting their teeth and getting it done when the going got tough.
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