Sometimes you get miracles, sometimes you hit the post.
Canada vs Russia. Hockey's eternal rivals. In the 2011 World Juniors the Russians, led by Evgeny Kuznetsov, inexplicably come from behind in the third period of the gold medal game. They erase a 3-0 lead with 5 unanswered goals to win the gold and hand Canada one of the most devastating losses in international hockey history.
Fast forward to 2012. Russia, led by the same Evgeny Kuznetsov, is in the process of blowing out Canada in the semi-final showdown, leading 6-1 in the third period. Canada, after playing quite poorly over the first 40 minutes, just as inexplicably mounts their own comeback. The teenagers restored the country's pride in the team, storming back to make it 6-5. If not for a goal post they almost tied the game in the dying seconds.
The Canadians did not quite pull it off. But it was truly an amazing game, World Junior hockey at it's absolute best. There were plenty of mistakes and blunders, but no NHL regular season game could match the emotion and entertainment of that game. We can say the same thing every year - classic games, fierce rivalries, new heroes and villains. It is the best hockey played on the calendar outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs, at least in non-Olympic years. Many will tell you it is the best hockey played on the calendar, period.
Canada now plays for bronze on Thursday. In Canadian hockey there is an unhealthy attitude that it is gold or bust.Anything else is failure. That attitude needs to change, and hopefully this group of Canadian kids sets the example by winning bronze with a smile on their face, and with the same desire that they showed in the third period against the Russians.
The almost-comeback against the Russians will be something these kids will never forget. Hopefully they end this tournament with a memento to look back upon this moment - the bronze medal. It will make their memories of the game against Russia that much sweeter 20 or 30 years from now.
Let's also hope Canadians tune in to the gold medal game, which features Sweden and Russia. These two played in a thriller in the round robin, with Sweden coming from behind to win 4-3 in overtime. The gold medal game promises to be another game for the ages - a game all true hockey fans will want to watch.