The Great Collapse
You'll remember where you were. There wasn't a defining moment. Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't there to fire the puck off Patrick O'Sullivan's rear end. John Carlson wasn't there to fly down the wing and beat Martin Jones short side.
But it was memorable and tragic all the same.
The Canadians jumped out to a three goal lead after two periods. Everything was humming along. Ryan Ellis, Carter Ashton and Brayden Schenn had all potted pucks behind Dmitri Shikin. The Russians had been forced to go to Igor Bobkov who floundered and flopped around in his first meeting with the Canadians on Boxing Day.
Everyone thought the Canadians were headed for a gold medal. That they had it locked down. Apparently, including the Canadian players.
They thought this was the same Russian team they played on Boxing Day. They didn't pay attention when the Russians rallied against the Finns. They didn't watch the Russians push out the Swedes. They didn't think the Russians could do it to them.
But they did.
There's going to be a lot of temptation to point fingers here. Canadians always do when it's proven they're not invincible on a hockey rink. The basic temptation is going to be to blame Mark Visentin. But this isn't Mark Visentin's fault any more than it's Brayden Schenn's fault or Ryan Ellis' fault.
It is, however, Dave Cameron's fault. When this team started believing they had it won after two periods, he needed to remind them what the Russians did to the Finns and Swedes. When the they stopped skating, when they stopped forechecking and playing the style of game that got them to the Gold Medal Game. They were confused on the bench, leading to a Too Many Men call. They weren't taking the body any more and they weren't winning face-offs. Even the Ryan Johansen, Zack Kassian, Marcus Foligno that so frequently energized Canada during the tournament was listless in the third period.
His team was unfocused, they stopped moving their feet and they paid for it.
Another typical Canadian impulse is to focus on the player who weren't there. In this case, again, the focus will be goaltending. Fans will ask how Dave Cameron left the best goaltender in Major Junior, Calvin Pickard, off the team. Some will ask if Jaden Schwartz would have made a considerable difference had he been able to suit up.
But no excuse turns a loss into a win.
Doing a post mortem, I have only two suggestions moving forward.
The first does have to do with goaltending. Team Canada has, in recent years, put a greater onus on goaltending performance in the few outings at camp than it has on the entire season leading up to camp. What's true in politics is true in goaltending; the greater the sample size, the more accurate the projection.
The second is coaching. Team Canada needs a coach whose only job this year is to coach the National Junior Teams. That means the Team that goes to the Ivan Hlinka, the team that plays in the Spring Under 18 Tournament and the team that goes to the World Juniors. In 2008, Pat Quinn coached Team Canada at the Spring Under-18s to Gold, then the next winter he took many of the same kids to the Gold Medal at the World Juniors in Ottawa.
You need one coach whose job it is to coach Team Canada. One coach whose job it is to scout these players all through the early Major Junior season with Hockey Canada's head scout. To know these kids games inside and out. With Pat Quinn and Ken Hitchcock both between coaching gigs, it could have been done this year.
But for now, Team Canada can add the Bungle in Buffalo to last year's Sudden Death in Saskatoon.