Since the last time Canada won the gold medal in the World Junior Hockey Championship in 1997, the National Junior Team has seen its share of heartbreaking defeats in the tournament finals.
Tuesday night, however, Canadian players and fans put all that behind them. Canada stormed through the 2005 World Juniors in Grand Forks, N.D., and put the icing on the cake to the tune of a convincing 6-1 victory over Russia.
This year, the mission for Canada has been nothing less than bringing home the gold. “We came in here with one goal, and one goal only,” said goaltender Jeff Glass. “The way we did it was awesome.”
Canada’s run through the ten nation tournament was indeed awesome. The team turned a lot of heads, including that of Steve Tambellini, vice president of player personnel for the Vancouver Canucks.
“To see a team of that caliber and class as far as people and talent go is amazing. That’s as strong as any team I can remember seeing.”
Tambellini’s own son, Jeff, played for Canada’s silver medal winning entry at the 2004 World Junior Championship. Tambellini spent the evening updating Jeff, who was in Michigan where there was no way of following the game.
Tambellini, a big part of Canada’s 2002 gold medal Olympic win, and Canada’s 2004 World Cup of Hockey victory, noted that Canada both played and conducted themselves at a level that goes above their age. “The poise they have is beyond their years … it’s an amazing group of young men.”
The team, after focusing on the task at hand since day one, finally will get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
“It feels good to bring the gold back to Canada for sure,” said captain Michael Richards.
Ryan Getzlaf agreed: “We’re going to enjoy this for many years to come.”
During the game, the seats of the Ralph Engelstad Arena were a sea of red and white. There was never any doubt who the crowd favorite was. For the players, the crowd support only added to a special night.
“It’s unbelievable … There’s a lot of people spending a lot of money to watch the game,” said Getzlaf. “We really appreciate it.”
The appreciation goes both ways. For the fans in the arena, January 4th was truly a night to remember. “It’s unbelievable as a Canadian. It puts our name on the map,” said Sigh Armstrong, a native of Estevan, Sask.
Sean Walmsley, who made the trip to Grand Forks from Victoria, B.C. for the entire tournament, felt Canada’s performance was well worth the trip. “This is awesome, I’ve watched the last five years.”
“After all the heartbreaking losses, to finally beat the Russians and really cream them is just something special.”Canada will definitely take the time to properly savor this victory, but fans who wish to see Canada defend the gold during the 2006 tournament in Vancouver better not celebrate for too long – Walmsley said he’s already in line for tickets.