-- There would be a bronze lining for Team Canada at the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship as they blanked Finland for the 4-0 bronze medal win.
“"It means a lot. It's not what we came here for but it's good for us to go out on a positive note. We loved our team, we had a great time,” said Brendan Gallagher, who had an impressive tournament with six points and a plus-five rating. “This month was the best month of our lives. We got to experience an extremely amazing crowd and it's a memory we are going to have forever. Hopefully twenty years from now I'll be able to run into guys and we'll be able to talk about this."
Goaltender, Mark Visentin got the call in net and stepped up to the task with a calm demeanor and some show stopping saves.
The subdued Saddledome crowd came alive after Teeumu Pulkkinen was awarded a penalty shot for Visentin throwing his stick, with 2:11 remaining in the middle frame. He was swiftly turned away on his five-hole attempt.
“To make that key stop, especially it only being 2-0 it was a great save and a great game by him,” said Mark Scheifele, who had two points on the night.
The typically calm Visentin displayed a little bit of zest after turning away the shot, sweeping away the puck which ended up going straight at Pulkkinen.
“I was just kind of in the heat of the moment. I was more just kind of rattled that they called the penalty shot in the first place so once the puck was sitting there I just swiped it away and it ended up going right at him,” said Visentin with a laugh. “It was kind of a muffin anyways so I thought it was pretty funny but I don’t know what other people think.”
But the goaltending acrobatics would not stop there.
At 17:59 Visentin preserved his shut out with one of the best saves of the tournament. Spinning to his left, he made a glove catch that even a seasoned outfielder would be proud of, snagging the puck midair right on the goal line.
“The save in the third period, went off my shoulder, off the crossbar and I kind of saw it out of the corner of my eye behind me and just tried to swipe around and catch it,” described Visentin. “I thought at first that I went so far back that I had caught it and put it in my own net. But when I saw the replay from above and the crowd went nuts, I knew right then and there that it was all good.”
Even more impressed than Visentin were his teammates.
“That was unreal. All the boys on the bench were definitely going crazy about that. It was a great save and something you see in like NHL12 or something like that,” said Scheifele, comparing it a popular video game.
Fellow netminder, Scott Wedgewood said, “It was unbelievable. That better be the highlight of the night that one behind his back.”
Offensively, the OHL’s Barrie Colts duo would strike first on the power play as Tanner Pearson recorded his first goal of the tournament on the redirect of Mark Scheifele’s shot from the point.
With about five minutes remaining in the opening frame, Mark Visentin made an all-important save on a short-handed break by Flames prospect, Markus Granlund.
After taking four minor penalties in the first period, Finland escaped the first frame down by just one with Finnish backstop facing 15 shots on net.
Pearson would return the first period favour to Schiefele in the second, pick-pocketing the puck from along the back boards and feeding Schiefele on the doorstep who wired it top shelf on Sami Aittokallio.
With Aittokallio tangled up outside the crease, Quinton Howden backhanded in the bouncing rebound to put Canada up 3-0 before the close of the period.
Finland amped up the pressure in the third, spending plenty of time in the offensive zone leading to quality scoring chances. However, they were unable to match the physicality of the Canadians.
Fittingly, Team Canada’s point leader would draw an assist on the final goal of the tournament for the Canucks. A terrific toe save by Visentin led to a Canadian scoring opportunity on the other end as a neat three-way passing play left Howden with a wide open net for his second of the game.
Finnish backstop, Sami Aittokallio was peppered with 44 shots on goal while Visentin made 27 saves for the shut out.
The celebration at the end of the game was humble but well deserved for a team that mounted one of the most impressive attempted comebacks in World Junior’s history.
“We heard all the talk that we weren't going to be ready, it motivated us a little bit but at the same time you have to be professional about it,” said Gallagher.
“Win or lose you have to come to the rink and play your best game. It's not very often you get to put on this Canada jersey and it's really special for us, we cherish that. For us to come out here and play like that it's not tough. It's hockey, it's what we do and we enjoy doing it."
The bronze medal winning team was treated to a visit from Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to cap off their world junior experience.
“It's really cool. You see him on TV and he's always at these events. He's a big supporter of Canadian Sports in general. During the Olympics I remember seeing him at all of the events so he really cares about us. It was really neat to meet him for the first time," added Gallagher. Along with the bronze medal, the players said they would take away memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
“Right from day one when the team was picked the guys got along, there was no clicks, we got along, enjoyed coming to the rink every day and it was a very close team,” said Tampa Bay Lightning forward, Brett Connolly. “That was one of the closest teams I've ever played on. We played for each other, we cared for each other and we still do."
"In general the fans this entire week were amazing for us and I want to thank them for coming out and showing their support, even in the Russia game when we were down 6-1,” said Gallagher. “They were behind us and we could hear them so we all want to thank the fans, they were amazing and it's a once and a lifetime opportunity for us and they really made it special."
Members of the 2012 Team Canada world junior squad will now return to their respective clubs. The last time Canada took away a bronze medal in the World Junior tournament was in 2001.Author: Avery Buye