HSBC Arena, Buffalo
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BUFFALO — Canadian goalie Mark Visentin was on one knee in a state of disbelief. Returning defenceman Jared Cowan skated tight circles in wonderment. Canada's offensive leader, Brayden Schenn, sat on the bench, wincing in physical and mental pain.
Another remarkable chapter in the Canada-Russia hockey rivalry had just been written and the Canadian juniors were disconsolate. There was no Paul Henderson last-minute drama, no Mario Lemieux extraordinary goal, no Jordan Eberle late-game superhuman exhibition. Instead, the Russians celebrated another unlikely comeback, possibly the biggest in the history of the world under-20 tournament.
This is why no lead is safe in junior hockey. Down 3-0 entering the third period, Russia scored five even-strength goals to win 5-3 and hand Canada a monumental disappointment a year after Canada lost the gold-medal match to the United States in overtime in Saskatoon.
"It's a terrible pill to swallow," Visentin said. "There's really no words to describe it.
"I don't believe it happened. It was tough to stand out there and watch them celebrate. We really dedicated ourselves and sacrificed a lot to win this gold medal. To come out on the short end of the stick, that's a big blow for sure."
Whether it was a collapse or a choke, the turn of events silenced the wonderful Canadian crowd of 18,690 that invaded HSBC Arena on Wednesday that had hoped to party, but instead attended a funeral.
WJHC Scoring leaders
Schenn (CAN) - 8G, 10A (18)
Kuznetsov (RUS) - 4G, 7A (11)
Tarasenko (RUS) - 4G, 7A (11)
Ellis (CAN) - 3G, 7A (10)
Panik (SVK) - 7G, 2A (9)
Kitsyn (RUS) - 5G, 4A (9)
Pulkkinen (FIN) - 3G, 6A (9)
Johansen (CAN) - 3G, 6A (9)
Orlov (RUS) - 1G, 8A (9)
It was a loss reminiscent of the 2004 tournament in Helsinki, when Canada allowed a 3-1 lead slip away early in the third period against the United States. The game-winner occurred in a crushing manner, when Canadian goalie Marc-Andre Fleury banked a clearing attempt off his teammate Braydon Coburn.
This time around, the Canadians exhibited determination, discipline and selflessness in the first two periods to build a 3-0 lead. Captain Ryan Ellis, who collected his 25th career world junior point, scored on the power play on a pinpoint pass from Brayden Schenn. Carter Ashton scored from a bad angle with 13.5 seconds remaining in the first period.
Schenn scored in the second period for a 3-0 lead. But the Canadians began to melt down near the end of the second period. They stopped hitting, stopped moving the puck, stopped chipping in pucks deep in the offensive end and stopped playing as a team.
Still, in the Canadian dressing room in the second intermission, there was no hint that the tables were about to be turned.
"We weren't too high. We weren't too down," Schenn said. "I thought we were where we needed to be."
Down the hall in the Russian dressing room, head coach Valeri Bragin let his players have it. He broke the white board and urged them for one more comeback like they did against Finland in the quarterfinals and Sweden the following afternoon in the semis.
"After that, we have no choice but to win," said Russian forward Maxim Kitsyn, who scored his club's second goal, 13 seconds after Artemi Panarin scored his first of two.
The Russians tied the game at the 7:29 mark and Panarin scored again for the game-winner with 4:38 left.
Canada had played seven strong periods in a row. Two to finish off its quarterfinal victory over Switzerland on Sunday, three more against the United States in the semifinals on Monday, and the first two on Wednesday.
But then they came up with another poor 20 minutes, as they occasionally did in the first four games of the tournament.
"Last year it was a bang goal and it was over," Schenn said. "This one … you could see it slipping away."
Schenn's goal and assist helped him earn tournament MVP honours, but he departed with a slightly separated shoulder. The Canadian centre stated that he suffered the ailment in the quarterfinals against Switzerland, but wasn't bothered by the injury.
The MVP award was no consolation.
"If you don't win, it doesn't mean much," he said.
His two points gave him 18 for the tournament, a total that tied Dale McCourt's single-tournament Canadian record set in 1977.
Schenn also was named to the tournament all-star team with teammates Ellis, who scored his 25th career world junior point, and centre Ryan Johanson. U.S. goalie Jack Campbell, Russian defenceman Dmitri Orlov and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov were the other members of the all-star team.
The total attendance for Buffalo was 329,687 for 31 games, the second highest in the history of the event. Only Ottawa in 2009 was better.