Vancouver Sun


So many moments of regret as home side falls in quarter-final at world juniors


Hockey is a game of luck and bounces. A broken stick here and a ricochet there can be the difference between winning and losing. But even the hockey gods had to admit this one was a little too much.

Canada’s 2-1 loss to Finland in the quarter-final match at the world juniors, which included a tying goal in the final minute of the third period that bounced like a pinball off body parts and an overtime winner that ended up in the top corner after hitting a defenceman’s stick, was the culminatio­n of bad breaks, bad luck and bad bounces.

But it was also about capitalizi­ng on chances.

Had Noah Dobson not broken his stick on a shot at a wide-open net or had Maxime Comtois converted on a penalty shot, Canada would be playing Switzerlan­d on Friday for a chance to defend its gold medal in the championsh­ip final.

Instead, Canada’s tournament ends without a medal on home soil for the first time.

“It’s a tough loss,” Comtois said. “Canada is never expected to go that early. It was a good battle out there and this tournament is about a fine line between winning and losing. Sometimes the game is all about inches. And we got our chances. But they found a way to get that one.”

Yes, hockey is about luck. And yes, Canada was extremely unlucky in this one-goal loss that had it all, including a last-minute comeback, a penalty shot in overtime and a game-winning goal from a stay-at-home defenceman who never scores. As Finland’s head coach joked, “You can’t write better drama than that.”

At the same time, Canada wasn’t robbed of anything here. Finland was the better team.

Canada took a 1-0 lead at 1:30 in the second period on a goal from Ian Mitchell. From there, the game turned into a goaltendin­g duel between Michael DiPietro and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

DiPietro, who allowed just five goals in four games, stopped the first 30 shots he faced as the clock ticked toward a potential shutout win for the Vancouver Canucks prospect. But with 46.4 seconds remaining, the law of averages won out.

Finland, which outshot Canada 34-22, forced overtime when Eeli Tolvanen sent a backhand that hit the side of the net, then banked his rebound off Aleksi Heponiemi, with the puck then riding up DiPietro’s stick and sneaking in under his arm.

“It was a lucky goal,” said Finland’s Jesse Ylonen. “But we had been so unlucky for the first two periods that we deserved it.”

In overtime, following a breakaway chance from Evan Bouchard, a blown penalty shot from Comtois and a missed open net courtesy of a Bauer that snapped like a twig, Finland scored the game-winner when Toni Utunen had his wrist shot ricochet off the stick of Canada’s Cody Glass.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” said DiPietro. “Definitely, it’s not a good feeling right now. It will stay with me for a while. One play doesn’t really affect the game, but it’s funny how a goal in the last second can really turn the tide.”

Canada had its chances to reverse the tide. But a team that had no trouble scoring against the minnows of the tournament couldn’t seem to pull the trigger when the competitio­n increased.

Canada combined for 22 goals against Denmark, Switzerlan­d and the Czech Republic. Against Russia and Finland, they managed just two goals.

“We had some opportunit­ies. We just didn’t bear down and capitalize,” said Barrett Hayton, who set up Mitchell for Canada’s only goal Wednesday.

“Getting that second goal would have been huge. It’s just effort.”

And so, let the second-guessing commence.

Why was Comtois — and not Morgan Frost or Nick Suzuki — chosen to take the penalty shot? Why was talented prospect Alexis Lafreniere, the early favourite to go No. 1 in the 2020 draft, nailed to the bench? Why did a team that had so little success on the power play not practise at all during the tournament?

“I’m not going to reflect on what went wrong. That’s over. We’re moving on,” said coach Tim Hunter. “There’s no givens here. Just because it’s in our country doesn’t mean we’re going to win. It’s a hard tournament. Everyone else is getting better. We’re getting better, but it’s getting harder and harder to win. You look at the Finns, they haven’t medalled in the last two years. That’s sports. It’s a game of inches, it’s a game of small little breaks. We just didn’t manufactur­e that break tonight. Somehow they did.”

Finland lives to play another day. All Canada can do is curse the hockey gods and hope next year the puck bounces their way.

 ?? DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Goalie Michael DiPietro reacts after Finland defeated Canada in overtime in the quarter-finals in Vancouver.
DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS Goalie Michael DiPietro reacts after Finland defeated Canada in overtime in the quarter-finals in Vancouver.
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