Canada twice had the Russians on the ropes, and twice the Russians got back into the game, falling just short in a dramatic and tense gold-medal showdown.
Loud, proud, and sold right out, the 19,014 fans who packed into the Air Canada Centre were treated to another special battle between the two greatest hockey countries. In the end, Canada withstood a fierce comeback from Russia to win its first gold since 2009 and 16th title overall.
“This is amazing,” gushed captain Curtis Lazar. “I really wanted to help Canada get back on top, and everyone did their part. I was just along for the ride. We had the momentum; we let it slip away a little bit, but we hung in there.”
Lazar was quick to credit the Toronto fans who flocked to games both with Canada and without in remarkable numbers. “The crowd supported us and was with us every step of the way. They were so loud, and to sing the national anthem along with them was special.”
Max Domi had a goal and two assists to give him ten points for the tournament, fourth in the scoring race behind three Canadian teammates who all had eleven – Sam Reinhart, Nic Petan, and Connor McDavid.
“We’re World Junior champions,” said McDavid succinctly. “It’s joy. Right now, this is just absolute joy.”
The Russians had goals from four different scorers, but on this night it was goaltending that was much of the story.
“It was 5-4,” lamented Nikolai Goldobin. “Just one goal. And we had the whole third period to score. We started pretty badly. We allowed two goals, weak goals. But we have a great team.”
Few junior hockey games in history could match the intensity, animosity, and energy of the first period. Canada came out with an unmatched ferocity and chased goalie Igor Shestyorkin after just 2:32 of playing time.
By that time Canada was up 2-0, and the Russians were reeling. Anthony Duclair opened the scoring after only 23 seconds. Domi took the puck into the corner and feathered a great pass to Duclair at the top of the faceoff circle. In one motion he ripped a shot over Shestyorkin’s glove, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Two minutes later Brayden Point made a sensational pass to Nick Paul. Point skated down the left wing, patiently waiting for Paul to charge to the goal. At just the right moment, he delivered a perfect backhand pass, and all Paul had to do was get his stick on the puck to deflect it past Shestyorkin as he outmuscled Ivan Provorov in front.
Rather than call a timeout, Russian coach Valeri Bragin decided to yank his starter and insert little used Ilya Sorokin. Canada continued to apply the pressure but couldn’t get a third goal. The hits, however, were massive and frequent, Canada usually getting the better of the physical style of play.
But the Russians didn’t give up. They generated a few quality opportunities but just couldn’t convert until Dmitri Yudin wired a shot that beat Zach Fucale at 9:20. The visitors were back in it and had the better of play the rest of the period.
Although the second period ended with Canada still leading by a goal, the score was now 5-4 and the events of the middle 20 minutes represented a spectacular kaleidoscope of emotions and momentum swings.
Connor McDavid made it 3-1 on a clean breakaway, taking a long pass from Josh Morrissey and beating Sorokin through the legs at 5:08 with clinical precision.
Two minutes later, Domi scored again on a long shot that Sorokin should have stopped, and at 12:30 Sam Reinhart tipped in a Domi shot from the slot to make it 5-1, Domi’s third point of the night.
The rout was on, and it seemed only a matter of not if but how many goals Canada would win by, but as was the case early in the game, the Russians kept skating and Canada ran into penalty trouble.
Indeed, the Russians scored three times in 3:16 to close the gap to 5-4 before the period was over. The first and third goals were on the power play and ugly, Fucale unable to stop the shots as the puck trickled over the goal line. The middle goal was a nice two-on-one play, Sergei Tolchinki finishing off the play.
Both teams were nervous in the final period, neither team wanting to make an error to alter the score either way. In the end, the Canadian defence withheld whatever Russia could bring into the offensive end, and as the game ended the ACC exploded into celebration.
“They’re a team that never quits,” noted defenceman Josh Morrissey. “They have a lot of skill, and they prey on turnovers. We kinda got a little complacent there in the second period, but I’m so proud of the way we responded in the second intermission and came back out in the third and really locked it down. I guess it was a little more exciting than it had to be, but it was amazing. I’ll never forget it.”
After the game, McDavid recalled watching his first World Juniors as a kid. “The team that I remember most vividly was the ’05 team and how dominant they were, Sidney Crosby, Bergeron, the list goes on and on. The 6-1 final. It was pretty fun to watch.”
And how does this team compare? “We’ll see in a couple of years, but in terms of the dominance, we were also very dominant. We didn’t even trail once all tournament. If it wasn’t for a sloppy five minutes in the second period, we might have had a 6-1 final as well.”
Gold was back in Canada for the first time in six years, a long wait but well worth it.
IHLC: With the win, Canada wins their fourth straight in their 17th and current International Hockey Lineal Championship reign, which they have held since a New Year’s Eve victory over Team USA. The win improves Canada to 20-11-2-1 all-time against Russia (and the former Soviet Union) over the IHLC at the World Juniors, and is their first tilt since the 2011 Gold Medal Game, which Russia won 5-3 in stunning fashion. This was also the sixth IHLC Gold Medal Game between these nations, evening the all-time series at 3 wins each. Canada will now carry the title into the 2015-16 season, starting their defence at the National Junior Evaluation Camp this summer.
This also marks the end of the IHLC’s journey in Toronto and Montréal, which saw the United States carry the title into the World Juniors and retaining with wins over Finland, Germany and Slovakia. Canada won the title from the Americans to close out the group round, retaining over Denmark in the Quarterfinals and Slovakia in the Semifinals en route to the Gold Medal Game. For more, check out the IHLC @ IIHF World Championships page.
00:23 – GOAL – Duclair (Domi)
02:32 – GOAL – Paul (Point, Virtanen)
09:20 – GOAL – Yudin (Golyshev, Dergachyov)
09:20 – PEN – Sharov, roughing
25:08 – GOAL – McDavid (Morrissey)
27:22 – GOAL – Domi
30:07 – PEN – Domi, charging
32:30 – GOAL – Reinhart (Domi)
33:22 – PEN – Virtanen, boarding
34:21 – PP GOAL – Barbashyov (Buchnevich, Yudin)
34:53 – GOAL – Tolchinski (Goldobin, Valiev)
36:12 – PEN – Morin, tripping
37:37 – PP GOAL – Goldobin (Tolchinski, Kamenev)
40:00 – PEN – Reinhart, hooking
60:00 – PEN – Paigin, throwing a stick
W: Fucale (26-30)
L: Shestyorkin (1-3), Sorokin (15-18)
SHOTS ON GOAL
12+5+4 = 21
9+10+11 = 30
Goaltenders: Eric Comrie, Zachary Fucale. Defence: Madison Bowey, Dillon Heatherington, Joe Hicketts, Samuel Morin, Josh Morrissey, Darnell Nurse, Shea Theodore. Forwards: Lawson Crouse, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Frédérik Gauthier, Curtis Lazar (C), Connor McDavid (A), Nick Paul, Nic Petan, Brayden Point, Sam Reinhart (A), Nick Ritchie, Jake Virtanen.
Goaltenders: Igor Shestyorkin, Ilya Sorokin. Defence: Alexander Bryntsev, Nikita Cherepanov, Vladislav Gavrikov (C), Ziat Paigin, Ivan Provorov, Rushan Rafikov (A), Rinat Valiev, Dmitri Yudin. Forwards: Ivan Barbashyov, Vladimir Bryukvin, Pavel Buchnevich (A), Alexander Dergachyov, Ivan Fishenko, Nikolai Goldobin, Anatoli Golyshev, Vladislav Kamenev, Vyacheslav Leshenko, Maxim Mamin, Alexander Sharov, Sergei Tolchinski.