Russian fans show love to Canada's U18 gold-medal team
Crowd gave Canadians support over U.S.
SOCHI, Russia — Madison Bowey and his teammates could hardly believe what they were hearing in the dying seconds of Canada's gold-medal match against the USA at the world under-18 championships on Sunday.
The Canadians were nursing a 3-2 lead when the crowd of approximately 6,000 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome was chanting "Canada, Canada, Canada" or "Kanada, Kanada, Kanada," as it is often spelled here.
"I thought it was pretty cool to have that support," said Bowey after the Canadian teenagers held on to the one-goal lead and won the U18 title.
"That was amazing," added Zachary Nastasiuk.
This wasn't a Cold War reception the Russians were giving the Americans.
One of the reasons for the choosing sides for fans was their beloved Russian team lost 3-2 in a shootout to the U.S., in the semifinals on Friday. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Another is simply the rich hockey history between Canada and first the Soviet Union — now Russia — dating back to the '72 Summit Series. Outside of the Miracle On Ice Olympic gold-medal triumph by the U.S., over the Soviet Union in 1980, there is no real hockey history between the two political superpowers.
The fans loved the Canadian teens. They cheered for the game. Kids had the Maple Leaf painted on their face, and flags were flapping 30 minutes before the game. The Russians even cheered when hockey's unofficial international anthem, The Hockey Song by the late Stompin' Tom Connors, blared over the speaker system.
"Our history goes back a long way," said Canada coach Don Hay. "There is a real mutual respect between Canada and Russia. The fans really showed their support today and we appreciate that."
Not a classic
It wasn't exactly a classic by any means that the Canadians and Americans served up, although the game featured plenty of great hits, scoring chances and superb saves by both goaltenders.
Canada took the early lead, but the USA roared back with a pair of goals, only to have their North American nemesis tie it again before Frederick Gauthier netted the winner at 16:36 of the middle period.
And while Gauthier will be remembered as the guy who scored the goal that gave Canada its first U18 gold since 2008, the real hero was goalie Philippe Desrosiers, who stopped 33 of 35 shots.
Canada also won despite registering only 12 shot.
The two countries took different paths to the final.
The U.S., was represented by its U18 team from the hot-house program in Michigan, and only one player on the 22-player roster was not a team member all season. The Americans took the loss hard and tears were flowing. Goalie Thatcher Demko was inconsolable in the interview area.
The Canadians, meanwhile, were assembled for the first time in early April and stuck to the traditional plan of getting better game by game.
The U18 championship files under the radar when it comes to the international calendar. Many of the top Canadians are still in the major junior playoffs and are unavailable. But it is a great tournament for scouts to get a last look at prospects before the draft.
Canada’s McDavid talk of tournament
As usual, there are stories and events that grab your attention.
One was the performance of 16-year-old Connor McDavid, who finished as the tournament’s leading scorer with 14 points and was named the top forward and most valuable player. He was superb to watch.
By comparison there was Russia's Valeri Nichushkin, the much-hyped top-five pick in this year's draft.
The Russians cruised to the semifinals but gave everyone a sense of false hope, especially since the host team had its roster bolstered with the addition of Nuchushkin, who was coming off playing in the Kontinental Hockey League's version of the Stanley Cup final.
He showed only glimpses of his potential and as one scout said was "a dog's dog."
On the day of the semifinal against Team U.S.A., Nuchushkin got a call saying he had been traded from his KHL club to Moscow Dynamo for $10 million.
The tournament also served as a test event for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, and the tournament more than made the grade.
The Olympic gold-medal game is set for Feb. 23, 2014, and the pressure is squarely on Russia's shoulders.
If the team cracks, then bet Russian fans to cheer on Canada again.
As the Canadian teens left the ice, the volunteers and members of the security force formed a line leading off the ice, restarting "Kanada, Kanada, Kanada," chants.
"Amazing fans," said Canada captain Sam Reinhart.
That they were.