The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Canada risked and was rewarded in country's fifth straight world junior gold
OTTAWA - Canada's fifth straight gold medal at the world junior hockey championship was won much differently than the previous four.
This was an offensively explosive squad with a little riverboat gambler in it. The team didn't have big power forwards or a defence-first philosophy like the last four championship squads.
While coach Pat Quinn did stress defence, he also held the reins a little looser when it came to giving this group of players some offensive freedom.
"It's the kids you've got," he said after Monday's 5-1 win over Sweden. "That's the kids we have and they're terrific kids."
This was Canada's second-highest scoring team in the 35-year history of the tournament, averaging 7.5 goals per game.
John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals, Cody Hodson of the Brampton Battalion and Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats led the 45-goal charge.
Hodgson, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, led the tournament in points with 16. Tavares, the possible No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft in June, was Canada's top goal-scorer with eight. The 18-year-old of Oakville, Ont., was named MVP of the tournament.
Canada's power-play ran at a stellar 50 per cent through the event thanks to the strategy of assistant coach Guy Boucher. Two of the five goals in the final came when Canada was a man up.
Hodgson scored a twice against the Swedes, including an empty-netter. Belleville Bulls defenceman P.K. Subban, Angelo Esposito of the Montreal Junior and Eberle also scored for Canada.
Joakim Andersson replied for the Swedes and goaltender Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 shots. The Swedes were a tournament co-favourite because of their speed and skill, but the Canadians kept that in check Monday.
A question mark hung over Canada's defence after giving up nine goals in two games prior to the final.
While Quinn said he was confident in goaltender Dustin Tokarski, the cautious way he said it indicated the Canadian coach had concerns about the state of his team's goaltending.
But the Spokane Chiefs netminder rose to the occasion with his best game of the tournament. Tokarski, signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, covered off the gaps between his pads and his posts, squared up to the shooters and made 39 saves.
"Tokarski was very good tonight and I was happy to see that because there was some question in the other games," Quinn said. "But tonight he was one of the keys ... because he made some key saves when he had to have them."
The Canadians stopped making high-risk passes and cheating into the offensive zone against the Swedes.
They controlled the game from the opening minute, when Sweden's Mikael Backlund shoved his glove in Tavares's face and Canada's power play did what it had done the whole tournament.
"Only one goal against, against a great Swedish team," Tavares said. "We needed a game like this."
The victory tied the country's record of five consecutive titles in this tournament set between 1993 and 1997. Canada's 15th gold at the world juniors also tied Russia/Soviet Union for the all-time lead.
There was immense pressure on this team to win a fifth gold medal and do it on home ice. But the majority of Canadian players were making their first and only appearance in the world juniors and they just wanted their gold medal.
"Coach always stressed this was our story," said Tavares. "It's obviously special to be a part of the fifth, but it was never about tying the record. It was just getting a gold for everyone and winning on home ice for all these Canadians."
Each of the last three years, it looked like the run of gold could be over. There was a semifinal shootout win versus the U.S. in 2007, an overtime win against the Sweden last year and another narrow 6-5 shootout victory against Russia in this year's semifinal.
Canada was five seconds away from playing for bronze versus Russia when Eberle tied the game.
"It's the heart and our passion for the game of hockey," said Tavares. "No matter is what is thrown at us, or what people say, or the adversity we face we learn how to deal with it and we become so close as a team.
"We really learn how to be strong as 22 guys playing as one."
Quinn, 65, insists Canada's resurgence in this tournament isn't because of the hockey summit after the debacle of the 1998 Olympics. He credits Hockey Canada's training centres across the country, established in the early 1980s, for building this new dynasty.
"It's great programs and the medals are just a way to count that we're doing good jobs," he said.
The 20,380 at Scotiabank Place set a new single-game attendance record at the world junior tournament. It was the fourth time a new mark was established in Ottawa and erased the previous high of 20,223 that was set during Canada's preliminary-round game against the U.S.
The audience included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
"Throughout the tournament, Canadian players not only produced world-class hockey on the ice, they also represented our country with tremendous dignity and pride off the ice," Harper said in a statement. "I want to commend all of the players, coaches, volunteers, families and staff who contributed to this successful tournament.
"This is a well-deserved victory."
Canada will have home-ice advantage in playing for a sixth straight gold in Saskatoon and Regina in 2010.
Germany and Kazakhstan were relegated to the world 'B' championship for finishing ninth and 10th. Switzerland and Austria will join Canada, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia, the U.S., Czech Republic, Finland and Latvia in Saskatchewan.
According to organizers, 453,282 tickets were sold, which is a tournament attendance record that wiped out the previous high of 325,138 set in Vancouver three years ago.
Because of the sheer size of Scotiabank Place it wasn't a difficult ticket to get and there were still some available for Canada's semifinal and the final late last week. Scalpers were asking $350 for upper-level seats prior to the final.
The attendance record was attainable because of Scotiabank's capacity and the Civic Centre, the site of Pool B games, also holds 10,000. Most European arenas hold 16,000 to 18,000.
Notes: Rumours surfaced Monday that the Oshawa Generals had traded Tavares's his rights to the London Knights, but the Generals issued a statement saying the 18-year-old Oakville, Ont., had not been dealt ... Subban, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, hugged Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk twice in the post-game ceremony ... Prince George Cougars forward Dana Tyrell was on the ice to sing the anthem following the game. A knee injury forced him off the team prior to the tournament and he was replaced by Evander Kane ... Hickey, Subban, Tavares and Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk, who played with a sprained ankle, have won back-to-back world junior titles ... According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, Ottawa posted the fourth largest attendance of any of its world championships, including the world men's tournament which is so popular in Europe. The 2004 world championship in the Czech Republic holds the record of 552,097.
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