Thu Jan 06 12:18am EST
BUFFALO — The old USSR had Chernobyl, the U.S. had Three Mile Island and Canada had a three-goal lead.
Russia's 5-3 comeback win over Team Canada has already been termed the "greatest collapse in world junior history" by TSN's Pierre McGuire, so it might be futile to refute that label. It snowballed before that 17-minute collapse.
"It started in the second period," Team Canada coach Dave Cameron said. "The last 5-6 minutes, we got away from getting pucks deep and playing down low ...then in the third, they got two quick goals and the energy level changed."
The hierarchy of reasons for why Russia, which had the longest odds of winning the tournament out of the semifinalists, pulled off the win.
1. Skill plus will — This was affirmation for Russia's new attitude. Russian teams have been notorious for quiet goings into the night over the years, most infamously in a 7-3 quarter-final loss to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.
Instead, coach Valeri Bragin's team, inspired by St. Louis Blues first-rounder and captain Vladimir Tarasenko, who came back from getting a skate in the face in the second to score the tying goal, would not wilt. You can only imagine the dementia in Canada if it its junior team won a tournament in which it started 0-2 before coming from behind in the third period in each of three knockout games.
2. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth — A few know-it-alls noted at hockey in 2011 requires being able to win an offensive game. Canada's now 0-for-2 since the Pat Quinn-coached '09 team, which played it wipe-open. It could not win here when it gave up more than three goals.
Russia, with an open, free-flowing game ("plenty of passes, based on chemistry") had the right stuff for a comeback. Their rally recalled the way the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks often caught fire during their Stanley Cup playoff run.
Canada, meantime, had a player pool that was missing teenage scorers such as Jeff Skinner and Tyler Seguin — never mind No. 1 pick Taylor Hall. Hence putting all the eggs in the play-both-ways, let's-grind-out-wins basket.
It seemed like a rearguard action at the beginning, very self-limiting. Cameron and head scout Kevin Prendergast were evidently so married to it the leading goal scorers in the Ontario and Western leagues at the time weren't even asked to try out.
It worked for about 35-42 minutes of the final. To put in perspective, that's longer than some people anticipated.
3. Canada forgot about Code Blue — Cameron's game was based on opponents trying to keep up to Canada's constant cycling and chipping pucks in deep to the offensive zone. Apparently, that was what that Code Blue concept was all about, carrying on like it was a state of emergency. Maybe that's a bit much.
They relaxed in the second period. For instance, on the power play with a three-goal lead, they seemed content not to attack.
"We just sat back and they took it to us," Brayden Schenn said.
On separate plays not long before Russia's first goal, Canada's sixth and seventh defencemen, first Simon Despres and then Tyson Barrie, each wound up behind their own net and carried the puck into the Russian zone. Both played the puck to the corner instead of taking a chance that might have led to a fourth goal and a kill shot. It was like both had been programmed to play low-risk, since they weren't stars.
4. The D wasn't what we thought it was — Canada's defence corps was not so formidable when it went up against forwards who could get into the hard areas within a 10-foot radius of the net. That was also their downfall against Sweden in the preliminary round, in which they also gave up a third-period lead and lost.
It was particularly evident on goal that pulled Russia within 3-2. Ryan Ellis — named the tourney's top defenceman, albeit in a media poll that closed at the end of the second intermission — couldn't keep Maxim Kitsyn from muscling in to rap the puck behind Mark Visentin.
Canada's third pairing, Simon Despres and Erik Gudbranson, seemed to have come around since some selection-camp shakiness. They couldn't stop the prolonged siege in Canada's zone that led to the game-winner by Artemi Panarin (right in photo).
5. The goaltending wasn't bail-out good — Netminder Mark Visentin really only gave up two bad goals.
Kitsyn's goal squeaked through his pads. Visentin also seemed to get caught in no-man's land on Nikita Dzurechenski's clincher. The first-round NHL pick stayed back in the net instead perhaps trying a poke-check as the Russian scored what was called a "weaving beauty."
Asked if he thought of going back to Olivier Roy, Cameron simply said, "No."
Still, it comes back to the fact Canada's 'tending has tanked in consecutive world junior finals. (You're off the hook, Jake Allen.) Picking two goalies from the four brought to the mid-December selection camp might not be the way to go.
Incidentally, no one asked Cameron why he didn't immediately call timeout after Russia's two goals in 13 seconds. He used it after the Tarasenko tying goal.
6. Schenner's shoulder and Schwartzie's ankle — Past Canadian teams have had a 1-2 punch offensively. Brayden Schenn, despite a shoulder injury, tallied 18 points to tie a Team Canada record for the most in one tournament. However, St. Louis Blues first-rounder Jaden Schwartz, who was expected to be a breakout star, was lost early on to a broken ankle.
No other Canadian forward came within eight points of Schenn's output.
Reality check: or, spare the Great Canadian Garment-Rending
Cameron explained earlier in the tourney that Canadian talent goes in cycles. This happened to be a year in which the best under-20 creators, like the aforementioned Seguin and Skinner, made early leaps to the NHL.
Three of the top six picks from the 2010 draft — Ryan Johansen, Brett Connolly and Gudbranson — played major minutes in the tournament. Johansen had a better tournament at age 18 then Schenn did and showed us something new nearly once per period. Visentin could come back a year older and wiser in goal, competing with Colorado Avalanche second-rounder Calvin Pickard to start.
There's no need for some national hockey summit, like back in the late 1990s. This isn't like losing to Kazakhstan.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.