Visentin finds redemption in a nation’s struggle
It may not exactly have been the revenge Mark Visentin was hoping for, but Team Canada’s veteran netminder held his head high as he collected his World Junior Championship (WJC) Under-20 bronze medal.
And rightfully so.
The Phoenix Coyotes first-round draft pick stood tall between the pipes for a Canadian squad with the weight of a nation on its shoulders.
Back-to-back silver medals in 2010 and 2011 — losses at the hands of the Americans and Russians — left a bitter taste in the mouth of a country that views anything less than hockey gold as failure.
It was Visentin who back-stopped Team Canada in the gold medal game last year in Buffalo when the Russians executed arguably one of the greatest comebacks in WJC history, scoring five times in the third frame to roar back to a 5-3 victory — and you can imagine the stingy sound of the goal horn rang long after that loss for him.
After going undefeated in the preliminary round at this year’s tournament, Canada looked poised heading into their semifinal against Russia — the defending champions.
Led by projected first-overall 2012 NHL draftee Nail Yakupov, and fueled by the loss of their teammates in the Lokomotiv tragedy earlier in the season, the Russians came out on the winning end of a thrilling 6-5 match. Visentin stopped eight of ten shots in relief of starting goaltender Scott Wedgewood. The loss meant Team Canada would go on to face Finland for third place, while Russia squared off against Sweden for top spot.
The bronze medal match was a special one for Visentin, who started his final game of his WJC career.
Although he may not have had his sweetest victory, he finished his two-year Under-20 campaign with a picture perfect shutout.
What was even greater for the Niagara Ice Dogs’ stop-guard was that he had the chance to do so on an international stage, in front of the tournament’s largest attendance to date.
Between the Saddledome in Calgary and Rexall Place in Edmonton, the IIHF set a new attendance record, attracting 571,539 fans. The 11-day tournament averaged 18, 437 fans per game — nearly 4,000 more than the previous WJC record, which was also set in a Canadian city (the 2009 tournament in Ottawa).
In addition to Visentin’s not-quite-perfect sweet revenge and the record attendance, the storylines for Team Canada seemed endless.
Kitchener’s own Tanner Pearson — once a stick boy for the local Kitchener Rangers — caught fire this year in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and as the league’s leading scoring, earned himself a spot as Canada’s 13th forward.
Brothers Dougie and Freddie Hamilton of the Niagara Ice Dogs had the rare chance to represent their country together, following in the steps of both their mother and father who were Olympic athletes.
But perhaps one of the most prominent successes for the red and white was the production of their top line – Mark Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome, who combined for 28 points.
For the Swedes who defeated Russia to capture the gold, it had been a long time coming. Thirty-one years to be exact.
In fact, head coach Roger Rönnberg was only 10 years old the last time he witnessed his country win a gold medal at the Under-20’s.
The Tre Kronor (three crowns) battled through three overtime determinants en route to gold and in that final game, it was Ottawa Senators’ prospect Mika Zibanejad who potted the overtime winner in a 1-0 thriller to become his country’s hero.
The scene across the pond in Stockholm was one of pride and exuberance for a country that had waited so patiently for its turn in the international hockey spotlight.
For Canada, the bronze marked its 15th consecutive medal at the WJC. For Russia, their second consecutive.