Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'We were thinking about partying'

The one real reason for Canada's collapse

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It was the mourning after, and a Team Canada player sat alone in the Buffalo airport terminal, looking like his dog had been hit by a bus.

Check that. It looked like his dog had eaten his cat, then gotten hit buy a bus.

The kid was hurting.

Recognizing him, your humble agent took a seat beside the World's Most Depressed Hockey Player and said, "You might not believe this now, but you'll get over it."

I'm not going to tell you the player's name, because what he was about to say wasn't on the record. Besides, he wasn't talking to me directly, but to a nice couple from The Pas who had just had their picture taken with him. (It's amazing how many Manitobans literally follow the world junior hockey championships each year.)

It was about 12 hours after Team Canada had suffered its worst-ever implosion at the World Junior championships, blowing a 3-0 third-period lead to an unbreakable Russian outfit that scored five unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes the night before.

The young man in the airport still couldn't contain his disbelief.

"It was brutal," he blurted, out of nowhere. "It's not even like we were disappointed because we lost. We just couldn't believe what happened. During the second intermission, we were thinking about celebrating. We were thinking about partying."

Two things: This was just one player speaking, not the entire team. Secondly, he was speaking the truth.

Because in the wake of the stunning Canadian loss, the party line was something completely different, if not expected.

"We weren't too high," said Team Canada's leading scorer and tournament MVP Brayden Schenn. "We weren't too down. I thought we were where we needed to be."

It's called denial. We all do it.

Of course they were thinking about the party in the Team Canada dressing room. For two periods, they hadn't given the Russians so much as a sniff. They had a three-goal cushion.

They were thinking about that scene at the end where they belt out O Canada arm-in-arm at the blue-line. They were thinking about their friends and family in the stands -- not to mention the 18,000-plus faithful who began their celebration about midway through the second period, and the millions more watching comfortably at home.

(Hopefully, they weren't thinking about partying like the Russians, who got so hammered at their hotel after the win they were kicked off their plane home the next morning. But we digress.)

Meanwhile, up in the press box glowing columns were being composed proclaiming Canada to be back after last year's crushing 6-5 gold-medal loss to Team USA in Saskatoon.

All we needed to do was plug in the "I can't believe the feeling" from wide-eyed Canadian players.

Instead, there were only red eyes on the faces wearing the red jerseys. Watery eyes. Deer-in-the-headlights eyes.

Oh, they still couldn't believe the feeling, but for all the wrong reasons.

One after one, the Canadians came out and did their damnedest to try and articulate what went wrong. Perhaps Team Canada goaltender Mark Visentin, who didn't shirk from the pointed questions, came closest.

"Explain it?," Visentin replied, when asked about the unravelling of his team. "It's pretty straightforward. I mean, we got scored on and I should have made a couple more saves out there. We got back on our heels and they took it to us. We lost."

What really happened is that while the Canadians -- whether they'll admit it outside of an airport terminal or not -- got ahead of themselves. Heady visions of gold medals were dancing through their heads. Two Russian goals 13 seconds apart had them reeling. They stopped skating. The Russians, who had already posted comeback victories over the Swedes and the Finns, smelled blood.

Maybe we should have seen it coming.

Even after Team Canada dominated the U.S. in a 4-1 semifinal victory on Monday, Canucks' no-nonsense head coach Dave Cameron was asked, half-joking, about the dangers of his team forgetting that the Russians still remained, even if the defending champions were eliminated. Cameron wasn't joking, however.

"Oh, we remind them," he said, sternly. "They're teenagers."

The boys in red were probably being reminded again during the first intermission against the Russians, perched on a 2-0 lead. But over in the Russian dressing room, coach Valeri Bragin was launching into a paint-peeling tirade at his charges.

"I've never seen him (Bragin) so angry," confessed Artemi Panarin, who scored the tournament-winner with just 4:38 left in regulation. "He pushed us and gave us a big boost for the whole team. We came out flying after that emotional speech."

Yes, if Canada invaded Buffalo on Wednesday night, it was the Russians who staged the palace coup.

Down in Texas, they say, Remember the Alamo. Years from now, in the Team Canada locker-room, they'll say, "Remember the Buffalo."

So will the Russians, for that matter. It's just that their memories will be so much fonder.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 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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