It can be hard to accept, but the Canadian 20-game winning streak at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships ended today with a 4-3 loss to a tenacious Sweden team.
Credit the Swedes with playing an aggressive, in-your-face style of hockey combined with lucky breaks and being offensively creative in their win. They were full value for their efforts.
As shocking as this loss was for Team Canada and its fans, aside from the fact that Sweden scored the game-winning-goal with just seven seconds remaining in regulation off of a quick sequence of offensive and defensive breakdowns, was that Craig Hartsburg’s crew played their worst period of hockey since the 2004 gold medal game against the U.S.A. Canada lost that game 4-3 and settled for a silver medal.
Uncharacteristic of their style of play in the last three tournaments and the first two games of this tournament, Canada fell apart in the third period and allowed four goals in just under 15 minutes. Three of those goals were scored just four minutes apart.
Every player on Team Canada, goaltender Jonathan Bernier included, needs to take responsibility for this loss. In the third period, after taking a 2-0 lead and looking like the game was in control, Canada let the Swedes off the hook.
To put some perspective on this loss, there are two things that need to be stated. The first thing is that the old rule that ‘all good things eventually come to an end’ is as consistent as gravity. Canada’s streak of 20 wins in a row had to come to an end today. The second perspective to take on this loss is that losing to Sweden in the round robin is far more tolerable as opposed to losing to Sweden or another country in the same fashion in the gold medal game. Not to say that losing should be tolerated by Hockey Canada, but what is worse?
Team Canada can look at this loss and accept two things. One is that this year’s team now realized that they are no longer invincible and can use what happened today as motivation to elevate their game to a level that will win them gold. As good as their game had been previous to today’s third period, it was looking like Canada’s play just wasn’t at a gold medal level compared to years past.
Today’s loss was shocking and disappointing for sure, but all is not lost. First, this loss happened in the round robin and will cost Team Canada a bye into the semi final of the tournament at the most. This loss, as bad as it seemed, can be used for motivation and will help the coaching staff re-figure their game plan en-light of the exposed mistakes that were made today against a well-deserving Sweden team.
Canada still has life. Now, they have to move on to the next game against Denmark and play the game as if it were against the U.S.A. or Russia so the team removes the temptation to get into bad habits.
For Team Canada, it is time to wake up and they just got a rude wake up call from a strong opponent from Sweden.