Credits: REUTERS/Mark Blinch
UFA, RUSSIA - Nothing like a barnburner in Canada’s finale at the 2013 world junior championship.
Scrambly, pond hockey, end-to-end. Call it what you want.
And don’t forget that Canada’s 14-year medal run in the world junior is over.
Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin blew past defenceman Ryan Murphy and slipped the puck behind goalie Malcolm Subban at 1:35 of overtime, giving Russia a 6-5 win and the bronze medal. Nichushkin was the player suspended for one game for hitting Canada defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon from behind in a preliminary game.
The score was appropriate. Most of the classics between Canada and Russia have ended with that score over the years.
Canada goes home without a medal for the first time since 1998. It’s a stunning result for a team that allegedly was stacked because of the NHL lockout.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might one day win a Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers, but he could not lead a team of talented Canadians to gold, let alone anything but a fourth-place finish.
This was a group that had nothing in a semifinal against the United States, when it was soundly beaten, but roared back with an intense effort against the Russians.
Given a day to think about it, the players realized that playing for bronze wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
But the Russians, buoyed by those in the loud, enthusiastic crowd of 7,617 at Ufa Arena who weren’t Canadian, had no desire to get shut out of the podium on home ice. They were flying.
Canada’s three best players for the tournament as named by the International Ice Hockey Federation were Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele and defenceman Scott Harrington.
Brett Ritchie scored the tying goal at 10:46 of the third period, tapping the puck behind Andrei Makarov during a scramble to make it 5-5.
Nail Yakupov had given the Russians a 5-4 lead one minute into the third.
The teams were tied 4-4 entering the third period.
That Jordan Binnington started in place of Subban became a footnote long before the game ended.
Alexander Khokhlachyov scored the first goal at 3:31, beating Binnington with a shot along the ice.
Yakupov scored on a power play at 4:56, but Nugent-Hopkins scored on a wrist shot on Andrei Makarov at 6:58.
But the Russians restored a two-goal lead at 7:54 when Kirill Dyakov’s shot from the point eluded Binnington. That was it for Canada’s backup, who allowed three goals on five shots, and in came Subban.
Jonathan Huberdeau, mostly a disappointment for Canada in the tournament, scored before the end of the period. And Scheifele scored on a power play at 3:16 of the second to tie the game 3-3.
Russia again went ahead by a goal when Yevgeni Mozer scored. But there was Murphy with a shot from the point to score Canada’s fourth power-play goal and bring his team back to equal at 4-4.
Canada played without defenceman Griffin Reinhart, who was suspended for four games after striking U.S. forward Vince Trocheck in the head with his stick during a semifinal on Thursday. Hockey Canada will appeal the suspension.
The IIHF took the time on Saturday afternoon to dissect the Reinhart suspension, playing the video several times in slow-motion for reporters to try to prove that Reinhart knew exactly what he was doing when he struck Trocheck, who was not hurt.
“You have a responsibility with your stick to play the puck with it,” said former NHL referee Dan Marouelli, who sits on the IIHF disciplinary panel.
“In this case he was really irresponsible. He had no reason to raise that stick the way he did. He was careless. We are tasked with the message of ‘Don’t do it’ or you are going to have to pay the consequences of your actions.”
Reinhart said in a hearing on Friday and later told reporters he had no intent when he hit Trocheck.
Marouelli said the penalty to Reinhart on the ice should have been a match for intent to injure. Yet just a minor was called.
No matter to the IIHF, though. Though president Rene Fasel was telling reporters that player safety is of the utmost importance, one of the referees who did not give Reinhart a match, Didier Massy, was assigned to work the gold-medal game.
Apparently accountability goes only so far to include players, but not officials. Tournament chairman Frank Gonzalez said the officials had been assigned and approved, but shed no light on why Massy got the green light when he missed a call that resulted in a four-game suspension.
It was not the longest suspension in IIHF history, but the tied the longest at the world junior.
“We would like to be transparent,” Fasel said. “Player safety is very important, and as long as I’m president, I will fight for that, especially in the junior games.”
Transparency, eh? Hockey Canada was not given the heads up by the IIHF that it would explain in detail the Reinhart decision. That’s not transparent.