It was an unexpected start for Canada’s National Men’s Team at the 2021
IIHF World Championship and not the good kind. Losses to Latvia, the United
States and Germany put the Canadians in an unfamiliar position – an 0-3
record and a steep hill to climb back into playoff contention, let alone to
think about a 27th world title.
In over 60 years of world championship participation, Canada had never
started without a win in three games. In fact, it had never started with
even two losses. But there had also never been a tournament like the one
played in 2021, with COVID-19 restrictions and mandatory quarantine
periods, so really it was an unprecedented event all round.
Which is, perhaps, what made it so easy for the Canadians to keep faith
that this was an obstacle that could be overcome.
“Being down and battling and [Andrew Mangiapane] coming over and turning
things around … we just always believed” says Adam Henrique, the Canadian
From the outside, everything seemed to change with the arrival of
Mangiapane. The Calgary Flames forward flew over to Latvia following a
disappointing first-round playoff loss and had to isolate for two weeks
before joining the team. That meant he watched the first three games, the
losses, from his hotel room. By the time he got to the dressing room, the
team was down.
But definitely not out.
“Obviously his play coming over was a big addition to the team, but even
his impact off the ice, he was a huge morale boost for the group,” Henrique
explains. “He’s great in the locker room, he’s a funny guy, always had a
smile on his face, a high-energy type of person and I think that really
bled through the locker room with all the guys there.
“And his play on the ice was amazing. He became the MVP of the tournament,
and we had some chemistry right away … so he is a huge reason we ended up
being able to pull through.”
There was no specific moment or game Henrique could remember that things
seemed to change, it was more a gradual coming together of the team, with
lots of time spent playing cards together with visits outside of the hotel
restricted because of the pandemic. But whatever it was, the wins started
Victories over Norway, Kazakhstan and Italy got Canada back to even. But
then came the defending champions, and Finland did not seem to want Canada
back in the fold. A win and the red and white would be into the
quarterfinals; any other result meant the Canadians would need some help.
“We had to play Finland in that last prelim game … we had a chip on our
shoulder from losing [the gold in 2019] so we were trying to draw on that,”
Henrique says. “To send it overtime and get the point, we still needed the
help after that but … I think that’s when we knew we could do this thing.”
Despite taking a 3-2 loss in a shootout, the point still helped. Canada
then ran to its room to watch the results of the Germany-Latvia game. If
either team won in regulation, Canada would get into the quarters. But if
the game was forced to overtime, both Germany and Latvia would advance, and
Canada would be eliminated.
Germany scored twice in the first period, Latvia countered in the second
but, despite many panicked moments for Canada and its fans, that was the
end of the scoring. Canada was through.
“We were definitely keeping track of the standings and knew that our time
could be limited so we just had to win our games and cross our fingers that
everything else would fall into place which it did,” says Canadian forward
Nick Paul. “We just came together as a group and weren’t going to take no
for an answer.
At that point, it felt like the team was destined for something great.
Canada took down the Russians 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinal – on a
Mangiapane goal set up by a terrific play by Troy Stecher – and the
Americans 4-2 in the semis. Leaving just those pesky Finns with gold on the
The tight first period saw just a Finland goal from Mikael Ruohomaa, but
Max Comtois got Canada on the board in the second. Petteri Lindbohm put
Finland ahead early in the third before the captain countered for Canada at
about the 12-minute mark, sending the game to overtime.
The Cinderella team was approaching midnight, with Paul in the defensive
zone taking a faceoff.
“I kind of lost the faceoff,” Paul recalls. “But I read [the Finnish
centre] was going to the defence so I put my stick down and [the puck] hit
it, so springing a two-on-one with Connor Brown, and I know when you give
Brownie the puck he makes good things happen.
“I slid it over to him early and it got mixed up in his skates, but he
still made a beautiful pass back and I could have closed my eyes to put
that one away. It was right on the tape and there was no goalie in sight.”
Henrique’s memory of the golden goal is a little more succinct.
“Thank god,” he laughs. “It was a defensive zone faceoff and Pauly goes
ahead, and you just never see that!
“But it led to the two-on-one … and I can’t even explain the feeling on the
bench was relief and we just couldn’t believe it. We had actually won after
everything that had happened in the tournament … it will be a moment I will
never forget in my hockey career.”
It may not have been the start expected of a hockey nation as renowned as
Canada, but the ending certainly exceeded expectations and will likely be a
story told a little more often than others.
The greatest Canadian comeback in IIHF World Championship history.