Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Locked out of the medals

Much-ballyhooed Canada shut out for first time in 14 years

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UFA, Russia -- This wasn't your lockout team of 1995 or 2005, but much more was expected at the 2013 world junior hockey championship of a Canadian team bolstered by the absence of the NHL.

Canada's coach and players were blunt after Saturday's bronze-medal loss to Russia, calling their fourth-place finish "unacceptable."

It was the first time since 1998 that a Canadian team left the tournament without medals around their necks, ending a streak of 14 straight podiums.

"I have the rest of my life to think on this and it's not going to be easy," Canadian head coach Steve Spott said.

A motivated Russian team, which hosted the tournament for the first time since 2001, defeated Canada 6-5 in overtime in Saturday's third-place game.

The United States, which beat Canada 5-1 in the semifinals, won gold with a 3-1 victory over Sweden. It was major turnaround from the Americans, who finished seventh at the 2012 tournament.

The Canadians lost the bronze-medal game and the semifinal to countries they had beaten in the preliminary round.

"As Canadians, we can't come here and not win a medal," forward Jonathan Huberdeau said.

Unlike other years, when some NHL clubs don't make their teenagers available to the Canadian team, this edition had access to the country's best 19-year-old talent because of the NHL lockout, minus one defenceman and one forward lost to injury prior to the tournament.

Hopes of a gold medal after three years of the lesser medals were high because of the inclusion of Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as players such as Huberdeau, Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele and Dougie Hamilton, who would have been in the NHL this season if not for the lockout.

There were six returning from the squad that won bronze in 2012 in Calgary.

Nugent-Hopkins led the tournament in points with four goals and 11 assists in six games. The Canadian captain was named the tournament's top forward by the International Ice Hockey Federation directorate, as well as to the all-star team.

So what went wrong?

It was a sign the 1993 birth year was not deep in talent when a pair of 17-year-old forwards were named to the team in a lockout year.

For the second year in a row, Canada failed to take advantage of the bye to the semifinal and ended the tournament with losses to two countries that both played quarter-finals.

After leading the preliminary round in scoring, the firepower Canada had went silent in the semifinal. While the Canadians scored four power-play goals Saturday, they had just two at even-strength in their final two games.

The world junior hockey championship is unforgiving because of its compact schedule. After going 4-0 in the round-robin, 40 bad minutes against the Americans ended Canada's gold-medal hopes. A soft start against the Russia made bronze an uphill climb.

To their credit, the Canadians tied the game three times to send it to overtime, but Valerie Nichushkin scored the winner at 1:35 of the extra period in front of 7,617 in Ufa.

"Kind of disbelief, I think," Strome said of his reaction. "....there's no one more disappointed than the guys in that room. No one cares more."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2013 B2

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