Golden Boys

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Team Canada wins gold at the IIHF U20 World Hockey Championships for the first time since 2009

If you live in Canada, you’re well aware that hockey is the game we cherish. It’s the sport most kids grow up playing and are accustomed to. When Canada fails on any international level at the game of hockey, it’s a let down that’s felt from coast to coast.

The IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is an annual tournament between the top ten hockey countries in the world, displaying their best group of players under the age of 20. It starts every year on Boxing Day and concludes on the first Monday of the New Year. From 2005 to 2009, Canada had won gold for five straight years. From 2010 to 2014, they only came up with two silver medals and a bronze, including finishing out of the medal ceremony the last two years, generally unacceptable by Hockey Canada’s standards.

This year, Canada had a chance to redeem themselves in a big way, as the tournament was hosted on home soil in Montreal and Toronto.

In the preliminary round in Montreal, Team Canada swept their way right through their division, defeating Slovakia, Germany, Finland and the United States. They outscored their opponents by a combined total of 19-4. Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie started two games each in goal for Team Canada, with a well-balanced offensive attack up front. Returnee Connor McDavid, who is just 17-years-old, had four points through Canada’s first four games, but he wasn’t finished there. McDavid is averaging close to three points a game this season in the OHL playing for the Erie Otters, and he is the projected No. 1 draft selection at the upcoming NHL draft in June 2015.

After cruising through the preliminary round, Team Canada went southwest to Ontario’s capital city in Toronto to compete in the medal round. Despite both goaltenders looking like brick walls through the preliminary round, Canada’s head coach Benoit Groulx decided Fucale would be the starting goalie for the remainder of the tournament. First up in the quarterfinals for Canada was Denmark, who proved to be no difficult task, as Canada won 8-0, outshooting the Danish 50-14. Current Ottawa Senator and Team Canada captain Curtis Lazar scored two goals and added a helper, while McDavid finished with one goal and two assists.

With Canada having a perfect record up until this point in the tournament, they got the more favourable semi-final matchup of the two when they took on Slovakia. Slovak goaltender Denis Godla was sensational in net, stopping 39 of the 44 shots Canada threw at him, including several dandy saves. Godla would be later named top goaltender of the tournament. However, his stellar performance wasn’t enough to get past Canadians, as Fucale shut the door at the other end us of the ice enroute to a 5-1 victory. Max Domi (son of former Toronto Maple Leaf Tie), and Nick Petan carried the explosive offensive spark. Petan completed the hat trick with eight minutes to go in the third period. The win set up a date with Canada’s arch-rival, the Russians.

Canada and Russia, the two most successful teams in World Junior history, playing for it all in front of a sold out crowd at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in attendance. It just simply couldn’t get much better than that.

As Canada had done all tournament long, they got out to a quick lead — and I mean quick — as Anthony Duclair scored just 23 seconds in. Two minutes later, Nick Paul made it 2-0 for Canada. After the Russians added a goal to cut the lead in half, Connor McDavid and Max Domi came to life, scoring and assisting on a few Canada goals to make the score 5-1. But if you’ve ever watched the Russians play before, you know to never count them out.

The Russians, as they always seem to do, would battle their way right back into the game, scoring three goals in just over three minutes to close the period out down just 5-4. The Air Canada Centre became silent.

With 20 minutes left to play for the gold medal, Canada played the most shutdown defensive period of the tournament, led by 6 foot 5 inch defenseman Darnell Nurse, who was a beast guarding in front of the Canadian goal.

Canada went on to win 5-4, capturing gold on home ice for the first time since 2009, with 20,000 fans all decked out in red and white, in one of the most electric atmosphere’s that the game of hockey has ever seen.

Russia’s a team that always seems to be built with more skill than the Canadians, but Canada plays the game of hockey the way it was designed to be played; with heart, and physicality, tiring out your opponents. Then you capitalize on all your opportunities.

Canada will have a chance to defend their gold medal on Boxing Day 2015, when Finland will host the tournament from Helsinki.

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