Friday, May 17, 2013
Canada crash and burn at the 2013 IIHF World Championship
It was Groundhog Day yet again for Team Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. For the fourth straight year Canada were dismissed during the the quarterfinal stage of the competition, this one coming courtesy of Team Sweden. The 3-2 shootout loss was made that much harder to swallow, with the loss of captain Eric Staal during a first period knee-on-knee collision with Vancouver Canucks blueliner Alex Edler.
Mike Smith was solid for Canada in the loss, stopping thirty shots but the guy at the other end of the rink was that much better. Buffalo Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth turned away thirty-nine of the forty-one pucks fired his way and three of Canada's four shootout attempts, clinching the host nation a spot in the semifinal round for the ninth time in ten years.
Right from the drop of the puck, it was obvious this one was for keeps. After sitting through some painfully dull hockey games throughout the preliminary round, this one had a nice pace from the outset. The two sides traded chances during the opening fifteen minutes of action but that all changed when Edler decided to take out Staal with what was a dirty hit.
While head coach Lindy Ruff would no longer have the services of his captain at his disposal, Sweden would lose their best defenceman and hand Canada a five minute power play, courtesy of the kneeing major handed out to the Canucks number one defenceman. The crowd in Stockholm clearly didn't like the call but it was, frankly, the only one to make.
Canada did absolutely nothing with the late period man advantage, which was cut short by a silly hooking penalty from Andrew Ladd, but they would cash-in early in the second, putting themselves in the driver's seat. Steven Stamkos would tally his seventh of the tourney, neatly re-directing a Stephane Robidas point shot past Enroth, mere seconds after Ladd's minor penalty had expired.
It looked as though the Stamkos power play marker could end up being the difference, as both Enroth and Smith continued to stand tall at both ends of the rink. However, Sweden would finally breakthrough in the third, as they took advantage of a couple of ill-timed Team Canada penalties.
Niklas Danilesson's seeing-eye point shot found its way through a maze of bodies and behind Smith, less than a minute into a delay of game penalty to Dan Hamhuis, putting the Swedes back on level terms. As if losing the lead wasn't bad enough, Claude Giroux would matters worse, taking a bonehead crossing checking penalty all of three minutes later and putting Sweden back on the man advantage.
They would need only twenty-nine seconds to covert power play number two, as another Danlesson blast worked its way through traffic, before glancing off the stick of Loui Eriksson and under Smith. Just like that, Canada went from being up a goal, to having their backs up against the wall.
To Giroux's credit, the twenty-five year old captain of the Philadelphia Flyers wasted no time in atoning for his earlier blunder, scoring his third of the tournament...1:15 after Sweden's go-ahead marker.
Neither side could find the winner during regulation or overtime, meaning this one would be decided in a shootout. Goals from Eriksson and Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle left the two teams tied at one a piece after three shooters, pushing this one into sudden death. The Swedes would be up first and Fredrik Pettersson surprised everyone, beating Smith with an absolute bomb of a shot, giving Sweden the advantage.
Eberle would go next and for the second straight time, he easily beat Enroth but this time the goal post got in the way.
In a tournament that featured a number of questionable moves from Ruff, one being his unwillingness to use Taylor Hall with any sort of regularity, Canada's bench boss likely saved his biggest miscue for the very end.
With all due respect to Eberle, Matt Duchene and Giroux, all three of which whom took part in the shootout, the fact Stamkos was not one of Team Canada's shooters is mind boggling. Not only is the Lightning's sniper arguably the best goal scorer in the entire National Hockey League, he was far and away Canada's best player during the World Championship. Yet there he sat, unmoved and playing the role of cheerleader during crunch time.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman PK Subban finally made his pro debut for Canada, after being knocked out of last year's event due to injury. Subban played 23:39 on the night and was a force everytime he hit the ice but in the end, it mattered little.
With the win, Sweden reclaimed their customary spot in the IIHF World Championship semifinal. Despite all of their success over the last decade, the Swedes have managed to win the whole thing on just one occasion, 2006, after knocking off the Sidney Crosby led Canadians 5-4, in a classic semifinal matchup.