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Pogge and Canada Win Gold

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
January 6, 2006

VANCOUVER (CP) -- Brent Sutter did it again.

He navigated Canada to a second straight world junior hockey championship by demanding his team play a relentless defence. Canada shut down a Russian team considered more talented 5-0 in Thursday's final to defend the gold medal won last year in Grand Forks, N.D. The back-to-back titles are the first for Canada since 1996 and 1997 when the country completed a run of five straight. It was Canada's 12th title since the tournament's inception in 1974, and it was accomplished through Sutter's system of team defence - and great goaltending from Justin Pogge.

This was Canada's best defensive performance at a world junior championship with only six goals against in six games and only one at even strength.

"We had a great group of young men and they just stuck with it and stuck with it," Sutter said. "They've hung in there together and as they went along they got better and better.

"Going into the game, all you heard about was how skilled the Russians were and how good of a team they had and rightly so, but I think one thing everyone underestimated was the skill level we had on our team."

Sutter, the coach, general manager and owner of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, is 12-0 in his two years at the helm of the national junior team. He's become the winningest Canadian coach in the history of this tournament.

"Brent's an intense guy," Canadian captain Kyle Chipchura said. "He's got the respect of everybody on this team. He kept our focus right and kept us the distractions out.

"He never let us off the hook, he never let us give up anything for free and if we did slack off a bit, he was right there telling us about it. He was huge for us."

Pogge collected his third shutout of the tournament. The goalie from the Calgary Hitmen stopped 35 shots and helped hold off Russia when it was outshooting Canada 15-3 in the early going.

Pogge tipped his new world-champion baseball cap to the crowd during the post-game celebration to acknowledge the regular chanting of this name throughout the game and the tournament.

"We had a slow start and he bailed us out again," Chipchura said.

Michael Blunden of the Erie Otters scored two power-play goals for his first two goals of the tournament. Blake Comeau of the Kelowna Rockets, Steve Downie of the Peterborough Petes and Chipchura of the Prince Albert Raiders had a goal each in front of a full house at GM Place.

Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman Cam Barker had two assists. Barker was the only player on the team to get a second gold medal. He couldn't play in last year's final because mononucleosis.

Sutter's philosophy of an aggressive defence, hard work and attention to detail proved successful with both the star-studded team that won last year and this squad, which was considered an underdog because it was younger, more inexperienced and less talented.

Russia did not get good goaltending from Anton Khudobin as he showed poor technique on Canada's first two goals.

"Those first two goals were decisive," Russian coach Sergey Mikhalev said. "We were not able to outplay the great defence of Team Canada and their goaltender.

"It's the first time in the tournament our team was not able to score."

Canada worked harder and was more willing to pay the physical price around the Russian net than the Russians were in defending it.

Canada's special teams were better with two goals on seven power-play chances while holding Russia scoreless on six opportunities.

Russia outshot Canada 15-8 in the opening 20 minutes, but the Canadians emerged with a 2-0 lead on goals by Comeau and Downie. They were also buoyed by the defensive effort of Marc Staal, who shut down Russian star Evgeni Malkin, and Pogge, who made some tricky saves during three Russian power plays.

Television replays in the opening two minutes of the second period showed the puck getting across the goal-line behind Pogge on a shot by Russian Nikolai Lemtyugov. The Russians had a long discussion with American referee Brian Thul, but the score remained 2-0.

Mikhalev said had that goal been recognized, the complexion of the game would have changed.

"Team Canada would have played differently," he said.

Sutter disagreed.

"We would have not changed our game plan if the Russians had scored one goal," he said.

The 2006 world junior hockey championship held in Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops, B.C. shattered the previous attendance record of 242,173 set in Halifax in 2003.

Official attendance was announced at 325,138 although ticket sales were said to be over 400,000.

The spectators at both Pacific Coliseum and GM Place in Vancouver were loud as expected. In addition to cheering for Canada, they adopted whichever country played the U.S., particularly when they cheered for Russia in the semifinal between the two countries.

But the chanting of few spectators became boorish with "U.S. sucks" in the semifinal and "over-rated" in the bronze-medal game.

It contrasted with the Halifax tournament in which the U.S. goaltender got a standing ovation for his performance following a semifinal loss to Canada.

It wasn't until Thursday's gold-medal final that the home-team support reached the spine-tingling levels that Halifax and Winnipeg in 1999 had throughout their tournaments.

There were empty seats in the corporate section in the lower bowl for all of Canada's games, including the gold-medal game, perhaps due to the 4 p.m. local start times.

The 2007 world junior hockey championship will be held in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

The good news for the Canadian junior team is there are 12 players eligible to return and the bad news is that some of them will be playing in the NHL and unavailable to represent their country again at the international under-20 level.

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