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Jenner, Isangulov suspended for medal games at world junior hockey championship

01/04/2012 03:46 EST | Updated 03/05/2012 05:12 EST
CALGARY - The disappointment was still in the eyes of the Canadian players a day after their semifinal loss at the world junior hockey championship.

As they prepared to play Finland for the bronze medal, furrowed brows and grim expressions indicated Tuesday's 6-5 loss to Russia was still on their minds.

But they will have to let it go for Canada to avoid finishing out of the medals at the tournament for the first time in 14 years.

Finland, a dark horse which has improved since the competition got underway, will certainly be motivated to win bronze Thursday after falling 8-1 to Canada in the tournament-opener in Edmonton.

Russia will play for it second straight title in Thursday's gold-medal game against Sweden.

As per his usual practice, Canadian head coach Don Hay wouldn't reveal whether it will be Scott Wedgewood or Mark Visentin in Canada's net Thursday because he tells his starting goalie the night before the game.

While Wedgewood admitted he was sore after Russian defender Alex Khokhlachev crashed into him in the second period Tuesday, he said he would be able to play Thursday.

"You've got to win a game to get a medal now," Wedgewood said Wednesday. "We've got to take pride in that and it still means something to us.

"Ten years from now looking back, you go into that game and don't give it your all and you walk away with nothing ... it's better to have something."

Without the adrenaline that a possible gold medal brings, the Canadians were feeling the slings and arrows of the tournament.

The upper-body injury Scott Harrington suffered in the preliminary round kept him out of Wednesday's practice. Hay didn't sound sure the defenceman would be able to play Thursday.

What's more, Canada will be down to 11 forwards for Thursday's game after faceoff specialist Boone Jenner was suspended for spearing Russian captain Evgeni Kuznetsov in the second period of the semifinal. Canadian winger Devante Smith-Pelly broke his foot in the tournament-opener.

In sifting through the wreckage of Canada's gold medal hopes, the host country's meltdown in the second period versus Russia stands out.

A loss of composure left Canada short-staffed and allowed Russia to score their fifth goal on a power play, which came back to haunt Canada in the third period.

It was when the Canadians stayed out of the penalty box in the third and got back on track in terms of their gameplan, that they were able to mount their thrilling comeback that fell just short.

When Brendan Gallagher punched Russian defenceman Mikhail Naumenkov in the face behind the net late in the second period, Russia turned it into a power-play goal to take a 5-1 lead.

Russian defenceman Ildar Isangulov later elbowed Jenner and was given a two-minute minor, which was subsequently turned into a one-game suspension for a hit to the head.

Kuznetsov made a goading comment to Jenner in the seconds after the initial call to Isangulov. Jenner took the bait and speared the captain in the mid-section.

Jenner took a five-minute major and was gone for the game. Without their top man on the draw, Canada lost the faceoff battle for the first time in the tournament.

Jenner could not say what Kuznetsev said to deserve his retaliation.

"If I could go back, I'd like to have that back," Jenner said. "It was the heat of the battle I guess and I took that penalty."

With less than two minutes to go in the second period, Jonathan Huberdeau, Canada's leader in assists, went to the penalty box for a slashing penalty and was also slapped with a 10-minute misconduct for banging his stick off the boards in anger.

"When players get frustrated they do things they regret," Hay said. "Whether it's misconduct penalties, major penalties or just selfish penalties, you usually regret those type of penalties.

"When you can play with determination, you don't have time to get frustrated. That's what we did in the third. In the second, we played with a little more frustration because it wasn't going our way."

It was starkly clear in the third period when Canada stayed out of the penalty box how much better their chances for a win would have been. They had Russia scrambling and taking penalties, which they converted into two power-play goals in their four-goal burst.

A 56-24 shot advantage did not flatter Canada's defence, goaltending or its ability to finish.

What looked like a deep defence on paper did not materialize. Hay relied heavily on four defencemen, three of them 18-year-olds. Ryan Murray, the youngest defender, had a rough semifinal.

Russia turned one of his turnovers into an odd-man rush that eventually went in off Murray's sprawling body for the first goal. Two other Russian goals deflected off Murray's stick.

"Bad luck, but it happened because of mistakes," Murray said. "Obviously made some wrong plays out there and I took full responsibility for the plays I did make. I've got to learn from it and put it behind me."

Russia's sixth goal early in the third period came on an odd-man rush with defenceman Nathan Beaulieu caught up ice. If Harrington is unable to go Thursday, what is a thin defence gets even thinner.

And given the imbalance in shots on goal, Canada's goaltending is under even more scrutiny.

For the third year in a row, Canada has switched goaltenders in the gold-medal game, although Wedgewood was pulled because he was in obvious pain after the collision with Khokhlachev.

While goaltenders get more blame and credit than they should in these games, Wedgewood and Visentin were outplayed by Andrei Vasilevski and Andrei Markov.

Hay and the Canadian players have denied all along that they had too much of an easy ride in the preliminary round, in which they went 4-0 and outscored the opposition 26-5.

But for two periods, Canada did not react well to trailing for the first time in the tournament, although to their credit they refused to go down without a fight in the third.

"They got a couple of breaks early that helped them get ahead of us and we kind of didn't know how to deal with it," Wedgewood said. "First time we got scored on first in the tournament and we were down by two. Everyone wanted to win.

"It wasn't like we were going to give up and we never did, but to be in that circumstance for the first time in the tournament kind of caught us by surprise."

The world junior hockey championship is a tournament of teenage hockey players, which makes for huge momentum swings on both dumb mistakes and heroic plays.

After playing in every world junior final in the previous decade, it's easy to question why this Canadian team isn't. But Canada was five seconds away from playing for bronze in 2009, and a shootout away from the same in 2007.

The margin to win the gold medal in this tournament is thin and Canada fell on the wrong side of it this year.

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