The 68th Ice Hockey World Championship wrapped up in Prague on Sunday with a dramatic comeback by Team Canada against Sweden to take the title for the second year in a row. Jan Velinger reports on the match and how it marked the end of an exciting of three weeks in Prague and Ostrava that hockey fans won't soon forget.
Oh Canada what a run! On Sunday as the final seconds ran down at the Ice Hockey World Championship, Team Canada confirmed they were indeed the best in the world for the second year in a row. The final score: Canada 5, Sweden 3, Prague's Sazka Arena witnessing an ecstatic waving of maple leaf flags as visiting Canadian fans celebrated their team's comeback to win the game. Forward Danny Briere:
"To win it twice in a row, to be part of it twice in a row is an amazing feeling. To represent your country twice is always special, to bring back gold twice even better! It's just a great opportunity and we took advantage of it."
Earlier in the week the Canadians had erased a two goal deficit to stun the Finns in overtime. Then, they bested the Slovaks in the semis with a controversial winner, scored after goalie Jan Lasak was tripped behind his net by Canadian forward Rob Niedermayer. Many thought an interference penalty should have been called on the play.
But most difficult of all was the final itself, with Team Canada falling behind by two in the opening period. Even after Canadian captain Ryan Smyth scored to inspire his team-mates to Canada's eventual comeback, the Swedes still looked in control, stars like Peter Forsberg and Jorgen Jonsson circling dangerously and Salomonsson raising the bar again. Now it was 3-1.
But it would be the Swedes' final goal on the night, and the Canadians were just getting ready to provide the necessary answers. Canadian forward Jeff Friesen described the important play:
"They made it 3-1 and Scott Niedermayer made a high flip to Heatly, the two best players maybe on defence and forward in the world, and they made it happen and we never looked back from there."
First, Heatly stunned the Swedes going high on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Then, yet another Canadian rush left the Swedes in shock: Matts Nylander had tried to bat the puck over his net, but swatted it in instead.
The Swedes, reeling in disbelief, would throw themselves back into it, but from here on in Canada would keep them in check, scoring a final goal to cushion the win. Canadian star Dany Heatly was thrilled his team had come so far:
"It's an awesome feeling to repeat, to come together in three weeks and win a gold like that. I'm just so happy to be part of this team, such a great group of guys, and that's my proudest thing of this tournament."
As Canada celebrates its gold finish it is worth reflecting on how the torch has now been passed: a few years ago the Czechs were unrivalled with a "dynasty" that earned consecutive gold wins at the Nagano Olympics, and then Worlds held in Norway, Russia, and Germany. But since then Canada has won the Olympic gold at Salt Lake City and now the Worlds twice.
Is there any consolation for the host nation, the Czechs?
Well, their team was the only one to beat Canada in the tournament and did so decisively, so there is some consolation in that. Now there's "always next year" to try and dethrone the current champions and one thing we can be sure of is that the Czechs, the Swedes, and so many others - will be looking to do just that.
Still, Team Canada's coach Mike Babcock now has plenty of experience:
"Everybody's gunning for you and the expectations are absolutely unbelievable, and when you stumble everyone talks about how the programme's no good anymore and the 'wheels are off'. Well, the wheels aren't off - we just had to stop and change the tires there and we're fine. I think that you saw tonight that we have unbelievable players in Canada. Not only do they know how to play: they believe they are going to win."
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