CALGARY – As the bronze medal hung around Mark Visentin's neck after, he flashed a warm smile.
It was nice, because smiles have been hard to come by for the 19-year-old goaltender of late. For the past year he's had to deal with being the goat – the player most demonized – for Canada's third period meltdown in 2011 in Buffalo where they failed to win world junior gold.
This year it was different, as he spoke with reporters after Canada's 4-0 victory over Finland.
Still, even in winning, he had to answer questions about the 2011 loss. Sometimes, he said, he even questioned himself.
"It's been a tough year for that," said Visentin of all the second-guessing. "I know I didn't do my job last year, but I've healed from that, I got over it and I used it to get better. I apologize to everybody that we couldn't be playing for a gold medal tonight, but we tried our best and I hope we did everybody proud."
Making 27 saves en route to his first shutout of the tournament, the crowd was solidly in his corner. He made some spectacular saves to show why he was brought back for the 2011 tournament by Team Canada.
"I just wanted to prove it to myself that I am (a big game goalie)," said the second-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes. "I was confident going into this game and I felt confident the entire game. Our crowd was supporting the whole team, not just me out there and it's just a great feeling having them behind our backs."
The biggest save came early in the third period in what could easily be the best stop of the tournament, where Visentin made a no-look, behind the back glove grab to keep the Finns off the board.
"It basically went off my shoulder (and) off the crossbar and I basically saw it out of the corner of my eye," said Visentin, who plays with the OHL's Niagara IceDogs. "Honestly I thought after I caught it, I put it in my own net because I swiped my arm around that far, but after I saw the replay above me on the jumbo screen it looked pretty cool. The crowd went nuts so I had a good feeling it wasn't in."
Defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who is a teammate of Visentin's in Niagara, said he had no idea where the puck had gone and was looking to find it.
"I looked up to the jumbotron and crowd was ooohing and ahhing," said Hamilton. "I turned around at (Visentin) and gave him a nice smile, a few wooos and was screaming at him a bit. It was definitely a cool time and I think he gained a little bit of confidence from that play and kept it going for the rest of the game."
It was a far cry from the lukewarm reception Visentin received in Edmonton's Rexall Place at the start of the tournament. Then the crowd was distinctly pro-Scott Wedgewood after his netminding counterpart usurped him as Canada's No. 1 with a 5-0 shutout over the Czech Republic in game two of the round-robin. Wedgewood started every game after that and was only replaced in the semifinal versus Russia when he was injured by a collision with Alex Khokhlachev.
Having been with Visentin through the ups and downs of the last year as teammates, Hamilton knows how important it was for his goaltender to go out with a good performance in the bronze-medal match.
"Obviously he's had it tough with the fans, media and stuff like that," said Hamilton. "I know he wanted to be the starter and the go-to-guy. I guess he didn't get that opportunity to in the semifinal and I think he's a pretty focused guy to be able to come back and do this for us and our country and win the bronze medal.
"I give him a huge pat on the back for that and I hope he can keep it going for the rest of the season."
Visentin also came up big in the second period when he stoned Finnish star Teemu Pulkkinen on a penalty shot – a penalty that was assessed when the referee deemed that the netminder had thrown his stick at the play just on the edge of his crease. After the game, the fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings was visibly dejected after the loss.
"It was nothing special; I tried to shoot the puck five-hole," said Pulkkinen of his shootout attempt which was denied by Visentin's pad. "The goalie was good."
Both the crowd and Visentin were pumped – in the excitement, Visentin ended up firing the puck right back at Pulkkinen as if to say, ‘I don't think so.'
"That was kind of heat of the moment," said the native of Waterdown, Ont. "I was kind of more rattled that they called a penalty shot in the first place. Once the puck was in there, I kind of swiped it away and it ended up going right at him.
"It was kind of a muffin anyway so; I thought it was pretty funny. I don't know what other people think, but I don't like to celebrate too big on that kind of stuff."
For some of other Niagara teammates seeing Visentin get some of his swagger back was great to see, especially since the IceDogs are expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title this year in the OHL.
"I think for him it's just a little bit of closure almost, now that he's got that confidence with the puck," said Strome. "I don't think he ever lost his confidence, but it's obviously a question. Like I said he's one of the best goalies I've ever seen and very professional and a great teammate. We're all really happy for him."
Still, for Visentin himself, trying to put the past completely behind him might be easier said than done, though this performance has gone a long way in helping those old wounds heal.
"I'm not going to compare this year to last year," said Visentin. "Obviously it's different when you lose gold and win bronze you always love to be playing for gold. I wouldn't have been satisfied coming out of here in fourth place."
Now he has another medal and another world junior story with a slightly better ending.
"I can tell you, 30-years from now when I'm cherishing all my memories and looking back on them, I'll be proud of having a bronze medal."