by Chipp Reid
OTTAWA – Sweden will have to wait another year to beat Canada in a junior hockey final.
After roaring through the preliminary round before sticking aside Slovakia in the semifinals, Sweden seemed to just run out of gas at the World Junior Hockey Championships final Jan. 5 against Canada at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. The “Baby Kronor” faced off against Canada for the second-straight year, but unlike 2008 in the Czech Republic, the Swedes simply had no answer for a thundering Canadian offense.
Sweden hasn’t won gold in the juniors since 1981.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling,” said Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. “You’re burning inside and you want to scream.”
The victory made it five straight gold medals for Canada in junior hockey, tying the record for consecutive titles it set between 1993 and 1997. The gold is Canada’s 15th, tying all-time lead with Russia/Soviet Union. Canada goes for a record six in a row at the 2010 world junior tournament in Saskatoon and Regina.
Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion scored twice while Belleville Bulls defenseman P.K. Subban, Montreal Junior forward Angelo Esposito and Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats added singles for the hosts.
John Tavares had two assists and finished tied with Hodgson for the tournament lead with 16 points. The 18-year-old from Oakville, Ont., was named the tournament’s most valuable player and remains a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2009 NHL draft along with Sweden’s Hedman.
“I can’t say enough about all the guys, all 22 guys, the coaching staff,” said Tavares. “There’s nothing better than this.”
Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs made 39 saves for the victory - an emphatic response to those who questioned his play after a win over Russia in the semifinals.
Joakim Andersson scored for the Swedes while goaltender Jacob Markström stopped 26 shots.
It was apparent it would not be Sweden’s night right from the opening whistle. A raucous, capacity crowd of 20,380 fans cheered for everything Team Canada did and it went into a frenzy when Michael Backlund took a penalty for roughing.
Backlund, a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, shoved his glove in Tavares’s face after a whistle just 22 seconds into the game, and his roughing penalty put Canada a man up. Eberle quickly shoveled the puck into the Sweden end on the ensuing faceoff and Subban and Hodgson dug away at the puck during a goal-mouth scramble before Subban shoveled it past Markström’s stick for his team’s 20th power-play goal of the tournament.
Canada dominated the opening six minutes of the period, outshooting Sweden 10-5. The “Baby Kronor” slowly got back into the game, peppering Tokarski with shots over the final minutes as the Swedes outshot Canada 7-3.
In an entertaining first-period moment, Tavares and Backlund took a turn stealing the puck from each other.
Sweden started the second period strong as Tokarski preserved Canada’s slim 1-0 lead 90 seconds into the period by stopping a streaking Magnus Svensson Paajarvi. In what was already a testy game with punches and face washes after the whistle, a second-period incident turned the heat up even more.
After Canada’s Patrice Cormier knocked Carl Gustaffson into the boards and shoved him again, Markström came out of his crease and checked Stefan Della Rovere during the same play. Markström was penalized for roughing and Della Rovere and Cormier for interference.
Angelo Esposito and Markström collided in a footrace for the puck in Sweden’s zone early in the second period with Markström getting the worst of it.
Hedman took exception to that, grabbing Esposito’s head and punching the Montreal Junior forward, which made Hedman public enemy No. 1 at Scotiabank Place. The rival of Tavares for first overall pick in the draft was soundly booed any time he touched the puck.
“They ran over our goalie to try and take him out,” said Hedman. “And there were no calls.”
Esposito responded to getting punched in the head by scoring his country’s second goal of the game. The Atlanta Thrashers prospect stepped out from behind the goal-line and backhanded the puck upper far corner at 4:06.
The 2-0 lead held up through the second period, although Canada looked more nervous with the lead than Sweden did with a deficit. The Canadians had the same lead going into the third period of last year’s final in Pardubice, Czech Republic, but the Swedes scored twice to force overtime. Unlike 2008, however, there was no brave comeback in the offing.
Canada went into the third period with a man advantage as well as the lead after Backund picked up an interference penalty to end the second period. Canada’s power-play was running hot at 51 percent heading into the final and Hodgson scored his team’s second power-play goal of the game 33 seconds into the final period. The Vancouver Canucks prospect wired a shot that clanged off the post and beat Markström to his stick side.
The Swedes cut into their deficit with Andersson wheeling the puck out front and getting a deflection over Tokarski’s shoulder at 8:30. It was not enough, however, to overcome a rampant Canadian team that could taste the gold medal.
Eberle and Hodgson added empty-net goals to secure the victory.
Germany and Kazakhstan were relegated to the world ‘B’ championship for finishing ninth and 10th. Switzerland and Austria will join Canada, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia, the U.S., Czech Republic, Finland and Latvia in Saskatchewan.