When Canada doesn't deliver gold at the world junior championship, some of this country's hockey fans get tangled up in their emotions.
They blame the officiating. They blame the coaching. They blame the goaltending. They complain that some of the country's top teenagers are playing in the NHL.
The truth was the Canadian juniors were beaten 5-1 by Finland in the 2014 IIHF under-20 tournament because the Finns simply were better on Saturday.
The Canadian team extended its gold medal-less streak to five years in a row.
This tournament has become so competitive in the last decade that Canada has to be at the top of its game or it's going to lose. The Canadians were not at their best in their semifinal and as a result the Finns finished them off to advance to the gold-medal final against host Sweden. Canada will play Russia for the bronze medal in Malmo on Sunday morning.
As Canada head coach Brent Sutter remarked afterwards that his team "froze" especially in the second period. This wasn't much of a game early on. There were very few offensive chances in both ends of the rink of the opening 20 minutes and the first few shifts of the second period.
The game, however, took a turn Finland's way on a dump-in that hit a stanchion in Canada's end and went right to Joni Nikko for the game's first goal.
It's always difficult when a bad goal -- fluky or goalie-inflicted -- goes in against you at any level. But Canadian teenagers failed to shake this one off.
From bad to worse
Instead, the situation got worse for Canada. Reliable fourth-line centre Frederik Gauthier, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect from Laval, Que., took an interference penalty.
The Finns capitalized with a power-play goal and then the Canadians suffered a further meltdown. Centre Nic Petan, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick from Delta, B.C., was nailed for a 10-minute misconduct for verbal abuse of the referee.
Canadian star Jonathan Drouin was able to bring his team to within 2-1 with a goal midway through the second period, but 39 seconds later he hit Finland forward Topi Nattinen in the head with a bodycheck along the side boards.
Drouin did not like the call. But international rules state that any contact to the head is at least a minor penalty and always is accompanied by a 10-minute misconduct.
With Canada's top-two centremen in the penalty box because of their misconducts, the Finns regained their two-goal lead. Canada was in tough.
The Finns were so sound defensively. Their red-hot goalie Juuse Saros, a future Nashville Predator who leads the tournament with a sparkling .942 save percentage through six games, could not be beat.
As a result, there was no comeback in the cards.
Even in man-advantage situations, the Canadians could not gain any momentum. Finland was too good on the penalty kill. The Finns went a perfect five-for-five in man-short situations on Saturday and now have a tournament-best 24 of 25 penalty-killing efficiency.
This was the first regulation-time loss for Sutter behind the Canadian junior bench in 18 games. He would have liked if Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) and Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames) were made available for the tournament. But Finland was missing forward Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers) and Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins).
Canadian goalie Zac Fucale, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick from Rosemere, Que., played well enough. Some will criticize Hockey Canada for not taking London Knights forward Max Domi overseas, but one player wasn't going to make a difference on Saturday.
The Canadians simply were outplayed, just like the United States soundly beat the Canadian 'dream team' 5-1 in the semifinals in Ufa, Russia before the NHL lockout ended a year ago.
So Finland moves on to the final in search of its first championship since 1998. Canada will compete in the bronze-medal event for the third year in a row after 10 consecutive appearances in the gold-medal game.
If there was a lesson to be learned on Saturday, it's that next time Canada has to be at its best in crunch time. Otherwise the five-year drought will extend and take another step in the wrong direction toward the worse stretch for the Canadian junior program, which was seven years without gold between 1998 and 2004.
In the meantime, no doubt the second-guessing will continue.
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