In international hockey, reporters are not allowed in the dressing room. So you will have to take Brett Connolly’s word for it.
Predictably, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Canadian junior dressing room after their remarkable third-period comeback bid fell a goal short against the mighty Russians.
“Quiet,” said Connolly, when asked to describe the atmosphere of Canada’s dressing room moments after its 6-5 loss in the semifinal to Russia at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday.
The Tampa Bay Lightning forward also was asked if tears were flowing. Connolly nodded yes as he fought his own emotions.
The disappointing loss for the Canadian teenagers snapped a 10-year streak of advancing to the gold-medal final at the world junior championship. Last year, Connolly and the Canadian team had gold slip through their fingers when they blew a 3- 0 lead with 20 minutes to go and lost 5-3.
This time around, thanks to a brilliant three-goal, four-point performance by Washington Capitals prospect Yevgeni Kuznetsov Russia built a 6-1 lead eight minutes into the third period.
Canada scored four times in 4:57 midway through the third period on goals from Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Gormley. The last goal, on the power play, arrived with 5:43 left on the clock.
So the Canadians had time and had some close calls to tie the game — even hit the post in the final minute — but the home team came up a goal short of a miraculous comeback.
“We went through it last year and we wanted to do the same to them,” said Connolly, who made it 2-1 early in the second period. “It sucks. It stinks. We battled to the end. We had a good third period, but you can’t give up [six] goals and expect to win a hockey game.
“We almost did. But again, it was just costly mistakes that came back and bit us in the end.”
The Russians enjoyed a 2-0 lead after the first period and went ahead 5-1 following 40 minutes. They were outshot 56-24, but gave Canada fits early on with their deadly transition game.
The Canadian juniors lost their composure in the second period after getting close at 2-1, but then watching the Russians swiftly build a three-goal lead. Canadian forward Brendan Gallagher took a high-sticking penalty behind the Russian goal. Canadian forward Jonathan Huberdeau was nabbed for a 10-minute misconduct for complaining about a slashing call a few shifts later.
What also made Canada’s comeback task difficult was a failed 5-on-3 in the first period and goalie Scott Wedgewood was not at his best. He was taken out of the game after yielding the fourth goal on 13 shots because Russian forward Alexander Khokhlachev crashed into him after the fourth goal.
“The job of the goalie is to stop the puck,” said Wedgewood, who hurt his neck, “Unfortunately, I didn’t stop enough.”
Canada will now play Finland for the bronze medal on Thursday.
“It’s not what we came here for,” Wedgewood said. “I know it’s cliché, but we didn’t play a full 60 minutes and that’s what hurt us.”
The Russian team will play Sweden in the championship final on Thursday evening.
“I know we didn’t play very good at the end, but we beat Canada,” said a beaming Nail Yakupov, the favourite to go first overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft. He plays for the Sarnia Sting and had a bet with his coach Jacques Beaulieu, who just happens to be the father of Canadian defenceman Nathan Beaulieu.