Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada crushed

Gold medals snatched by Team Russia's Khomeback Khids

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Just call them the Khomeback Khids.

In defiance of 18,000 rabid "hometown" fans, Russia staged one of the most dramatic comebacks in world junior championship history -- scoring five unanswered third-period goals -- to stun Team Canada 5-3 and claim gold in Buffalo on Wednesday night.

In fact, the last time a team travelled halfway around the world into the heart of hostile territory, refused to die despite the long odds against them and emerged victorious, the guy who scored the winning goal was named Henderson.

This time, his name was Artemi Panarin.

"We believed in ourselves," beamed the Russian forward, who beat Team Canada netminder Mark Visentin with just 4:38 left in regulation, stunning a sold-out maple leaf-waving crowd at the HSBC Arena.

The secret? "Because we are Russians and because we are champions!" bellowed joyous Russian Yevgeni Kuznetsov. "The Russian heart, the Russian character!"

It was a remarkable rebirth for the Russians, who actually began the tournament with back-to-back losses to Canada (6-3) and Sweden (2-0). A dark horse coming into the WJHC, the Russians were just one loss away from regulation.

Not only did they not lose another game, the Russians pulled off a dramatic comeback against Finland in the quarter-final, tying the game with two goals in the last three minutes before winning 4-3 in a shootout. In the semifinal, the Russians trailed Sweden late, but scored with just over a minute left and prevailed in overtime.

But to get off the canvas after trailing Canada 3-0 after two periods, in front of a raucous, ready-to-celebrate band of Canucks was literally the clincher.

And it was hard to explain, for either the victor or the vanquished.

"I'm superstitious," Panarin explained, through an interpreter. "My back pocket in my jeans ripped, but I decided not to buy new jeans but just to leave it as it was. It was just before we started to win here. It works."

So it's in the genes? Regardless, you couldn't heap enough praise on a Russian team whose captain, Vladimir Tarasenko, was helped off the ice midway through the second period after getting a skate to the helmet in an awkward tumble. Tarasenko not only returned, but scored the tying goal.

According to Panarin, it was a paint-stripping scolding from coach Valeri Bragin during the first intermission that got the Russians going.

In the end, while an entire arena wallowed in stunned silence, the giddy Russians jumped into the Plexiglas in front of the handful of friends and family among the sea of red Canadian faithful.

Shock. Disappointment. Disbelief.

"It's a terrible pill to swallow," said Visentin. "There's really no words to describe it. I don't believe it happened. It was tough to stand out there and watch them celebrate. We really dedicated ourselves and sacrificed a lot to win this gold medal. To come out on the short end of the stick, that's a big blow for sure. It's a brutal feeling.

"I don't really believe you win the silver medal. I think we lost gold."

What happened?

"It's tough to say," the goaltender replied. "I don't really have an explanation right now. They had a couple quick goals that put us back on our heels a bit. Credit the Russians. They have some offensively skilled players out there and they really took it to us.

"We were in good spirits, we were positive, I don't think we were getting ahead of ourselves. It was one of those games where you really just can't describe what happened."

Added Canadian teammate Tyson Barrie: "It just got away from us. It's the worst thing I've ever experienced."

However, no Team Canada member could have felt the sting more than captain Ryan Ellis, one of four Canucks who experienced a 6-5 overtime loss to Team USA in last year's gold-medal final in Saskatoon.

"It's our fault," Ellis said. "We had the game in our hands and let it slide. One goal and they (the Russians) got rolling. You just learn a lesson; never stop playing no matter how big of a lead. That's what we did, we stopped playing after 40 (minutes) and let it slip. They turned it on and we just weren't ready for what they had to throw at us.

"It's tough. You let your fans down, you let your country down when we thought we had it. But life goes on."

Weird, Canada thought they had a gold medal in their back pocket.

Turns out, it ended up in the torn jeans of a kid named Artemi Panarin.

 

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2011 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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