Toronto Star

Road to gold wasn’t an easy one

‘We knew at the start of this it was going to be a battle with young kids,’ says coach Hartsburg

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PARDUBICE, CZECH REPUBLIC— The 2008 Canadian junior men’s hockey team had to solve its attitude problem before beating the odds to win the gold medal. Ayoung, inexperien­ced, but cocky team came into the tournament feeling a little bulletproo­f because of the country’s 18-game winning streak at the event as well as the squad’s own 7-0-1 record in the summer’s Super Series against the Russians. They returned home to Canada yesterday with the gold medals dangling from their necks. “I know how big it is because I got to live it last year,” said captain Karl Alzner after he arrived back in Calgary. Alzner also won goal in Sweden a year ago. “I was always telling the guys how important this is to everyone back home.” Oh, Craig Hartsburg preached how hard it would be to win. But the players really didn’t believe him at first because they opened the tournament with consecutiv­e shutouts. It took a huge third-period collapse against Sweden in the preliminar­y round — Canada couldn’t protect a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-3 loss — for the players to start believing Hartsburg. “We knew at the start of this it was going to be a battle with young kids and a younger team,” said Hartsburg. “The core group of kids went through that summer program without a real challenge and some of the things we battled early was, you could tell them, but they had to experience that there were some good teams in this tournament and a lot better team than the Russians in the summer. “They kind of looked at you like, ‘Yeah, okay,’ but once we played the Swedes, they figured out they had to raise their game.” A young team’s confidence can be fragile and wasting a two-goal lead against Sweden rattled Canada. And the Canadians certainly didn’t look like a gold-medal team in a nervous 4-2 quarter-final win over Finland. This Canadian team was compared often to another young one that emerged victorious in Vancouver in 2006, despite having one returning player from the previous year. That squad had to muck and grind for goals. This edition was similar in makeup, yet faced the added challenges of having to take it on the road to Europe and the bigger ice surface.

In the six years the world junior tournament format gave the two pool winners a bye to the semifinal, only one team had come through a quarter-final to win gold. That was Russia back in 1999 in Winnipeg.

And Canada faced the distractio­n of a goaltendin­g controvers­y during the medal round, as Hartsburg stuck with Steve Mason despite the two questionab­le goals he’d given up to the Finns. Internet hockey chat rooms hummed with derision over the decision. Hockey pundits said Hartsburg was wrong and should have gone with Jonathan Bernier instead.

The stage was set for the country’s run of gold to end but this young Canadian team, which was one of the five youngest of the last 25 years, demonstrat­ed resilience and determinat­ion in winning two games in two nights for gold.

Of Canada’s last four championsh­ip teams, this one had the toughest road to take and grew up the most over the course of the tournament.

Alzner and forward Brad Marchand were the only two players back from the 2007 squad. Marchand said this gold medal meant more because of what he had to endure in order to get it.

“This year, there were so many critics and so many things we had to go through as a team to overcome,” Marchand said. “I think we thought it was going to come way too easy for us this year and after we dominated the Super Series.” The Canadian Press

 ?? J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Wayne Simmonds, right, flashes his world junior hockey championsh­ip hardware as he, John Tavares, left, and Steven Stamkos arrive in Toronto.
J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS Wayne Simmonds, right, flashes his world junior hockey championsh­ip hardware as he, John Tavares, left, and Steven Stamkos arrive in Toronto.
 ?? J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Goalie Steve Mason, of Oakville, and his mother Donna were all smiles yesterday as family, fans and media greeted Team Canada.
J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS Goalie Steve Mason, of Oakville, and his mother Donna were all smiles yesterday as family, fans and media greeted Team Canada.

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