Coming off of last year - which was billed as the greatest collapse for Canada in international hockey history – we came close to witnessing the greatest comeback for Canada at the World Junior Championship.
Ten minutes left in the game, down 6-1, and in rapid fashion Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Gormley scored one after the other.
They started to do everything they didn't do in the first 40 minutes and the wheels completely fell off for the Russians.
This is the wild swing of emotion of junior hockey. Sometimes you see it at the National Hockey League level, you sometimes see it at the Olympics or the World Championships, but nothing is quite the same as what we saw last year in the gold medal game and what we saw here in a tournament of comebacks. What went wrong for Canada was that they ran into a hot goaltender in Andrei Vasilevsky, they ran into a hot forward in Evgeny Kuznetsov and they didn't play their game.
Maybe the fact that they hadn't played since New Year's Eve was a factor but they didn't come out with the same intensity, they didn't dominate down low and when they did get chances, Vasilevsky was stopping absolutely everything. And then, when he wasn't doing the job, Kuznetsov was.
Kuznetsov had three goals and one assist. He was the only returning player from last year's gold medal team and a real inspiration to his team. He's the team captain and you could see in the game against the Czech Republic when the fans started chanting "Go Canada Go," he was giving it back to them, saying "bring it on". He responded huge.
Canada's lack of discipline was a factor in this game. The referees really didn't have a material impact on this game. The minors were even through the first period, but in the second period, Canada came back to make it 2-1.
But the Russians came right back, scoring one goal and then another to make it 4-1. The interesting point about these goals is that from the beginning of the second period to the point when Russia went ahead 4-1, there was not a single penalty called. Canada was not shorthanded, they didn't have any issues in that time-frame.
They got it back to 2-1 and then allowed the Russians to leg it out back to a 4-1 lead. In that span, the referees did not have a material impact. The misconduct on Huberdeau: that looked like it was kind of ridiculous.
But in the big picture, Canada lost not because of the referees but because - for the first 40 minutes of the hockey game - they didn't play their game and they weren't disciplined enough.
Canada did not play the same way they played in the preliminary round, or the Russians would not let them. The Russians were playing the second of back-to-back games and they looked good. They had so many easy-outs in the first period where Canada couldn't establish a physical forecheck and they couldn't get the cycle going to wear down the Russian defence.
Canada started to press in the second period and the Russians used their counter-attack. After that, it was the Kuznetsov show off the rush. If you're going to let the Russians beat you off the rush, you can't let them do it two-on-none. That's not the recipe for success.