Canada captured its fifth straight World Junior Hockey Championship gold with a 5-1 victory over Team Sweden in front of a record crowd on Monday night.
Canadian netminder Dustin Tokarski saved his best performance of the championship for the final, turning aside 39 shots in the win. While he was shaky at times during the tournament, the native of Watson, SK was sharp against Sweden.
Tokarski's play coupled with steady pressure from Canada on Sweden's goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, were the difference. Markstrom looked rattled during the game and there were several run-ins with Canadian players.
Head coach Pat Quinn's decision to go with Tokarski in the final was met with some skepticism following rough starts against the United States and then Russia in the semifinal game.
"I knew I had to come out better tonight and I think I did that," Tokarski told TSN after making the game.
"Pat Quinn was smart. Dustin Tokarski's pedigree is phenomenal," said TSN's Pierre McGuire. "You think about being the Memorial Cup MVP and when he needed to be at his best, he was in the gold medal game."
Debates over Canada's starting goaltender are nothing new.
"Canada went through this last year too," explained McGuire. "Craig Hartsburg had to make a decision in the Czech Republic, go with Steve Bernier or go with Steve Mason. He ended up going with Mason. He picked right and Pat Quinn picked right tonight."
Following the win, Tokarski was asked about his knack of coming up big in high-pressure games.
"It's all about battling, people can put you down and say you're not good enough but if you believe in yourself you can do anything," said the 2008 Memorial Cup MVP.
The attendance for the game was announced at 20,380, a single game record for the WJHC and the five straight gold medals equals a Canadian record for the tournament (1993-97).
"There's nothing like this," John Tavares told TSN before the medal presentation. "There's nothing like it at all. Listen to these fans. That's five, Canada."
Tavares was named most valuable player and top forward for the tournament and made a strong case to be the top pick in the 2009 NHL Entry draft with his performance in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the game and offered praise Team Canada.
"Throughout the tournament, Canadian players not only produced world-class hockey on the ice, they also represented our country with tremendous dignity and pride off the ice," said the Prime Minister in a statement. "I want to commend all of the players, coaches, volunteers, families and staff who contributed to this successful tournament."
Canada will go looking for a record setting sixth straight gold in the 2010 tournament to be held in Saskatoon and Regina.
The Canadians had a scare in the semifinal, narrowly defeating bronze medalist Russia in 6-5 in a shootout, but went undefeated in the tournament. Canada has won 29 of their last 30 games at the World Junior Championship. Their last loss came against Sweden in the Preliminary Round of the 2008 tournament.
"It feels unbelievable," P.K. Subban said. "The first thing I want to do is thank God. I mean we've been blessed since Day 1."
The action started very early in the first period. Team Sweden's Mikael Backlund took a penalty for roughing and on the ensuing power-play Subban beat Markstrom to give Canada the early advantage after only 38 seconds. Subban took several cracks at the puck during a scrum in front of the Sweden net before putting it past Markstrom. Jordan Eberle and Cody Hodgson drew the assists.
Subban ended the tournament with three goals and six assists and TSN's Bob McKenzie praised the defenceman's contributions to Canada.
"He's got a dynamic presence on offence and in this tournament he really started to buckle down and play some solid defence," explained McKenzie.
Canada scored what would be the game-winner in the second. Angelo Esposito came up with a slick move to get out of the corner, before flipping the puck over Markstrom to put Canada up 2-0. Chris DiDomenico and Tavares had the assists.
Scoring a goal and helping to capture gold was especially sweet for Esposito, who had been cut on three separate occasions at Team Canada's evaluation camp. He joined Dan Cleary as the only players to be cut three times before last year's tournament.
"I've been waiting for this all my life, since I was a little kid, watching the World Juniors," Esposito told TSN following the game. "Being here tonight in front of this crowd in Ottawa it was unbelievable to finally get this gold medal."
Esposito's goal came minutes after he made slight contact with Markstrom while going for the puck in Sweden's zone. The netminder went down and Victor Hedman grabbed Esposito in a headlock. No penalties were called.
Tempers began to flare again later in the period. Stefan Della Rovere collided with Markstrom while the goalie was skating to his bench to give Sweden an extra attacker. Following the scrum after the hit, Della Rovere and Patrice Cormier were assessed interference penalties and Markstrom was called for roughing. The Cormier penalty occurred prior to the contact between Della Rovere and Markstrom.
The penalties continued for Canada as Keith Aulie was given one for a cross-check moments later and just before the end of the Sweden power-play, Canada was hit with another penalty as Subban was sent off for hooking.
Tokarski and the Canadian penalty killers were up the challenge.
Over the course of the game, Canada's penalty killing units kept Team Sweden's power-play in check on every chance with the man-advantage.
TSN's McGuire explained it was Canada's communication that made them so effective while short-handed.
"That was the difference-maker for Canada here in the gold medal game because Tokarski communicated with the defence. They did a tremendous job between defence and forward and their rotation was absolutely awesome," said McGuire.
The two goaltenders, Tokarski and Markstrom, had been a study in contrasts through the tournament. Tokarski had his struggles while Markstrom shined but in the final the roles became reversed. Markstrom jawed repeatedly with Canadian forwards during the game. He made 26 saves.
Canada's third goal came when Cody Hodgson snapped a shot past Markstrom on the power-play early in the final period. The assist went to Ryan Ellis.
Joakim Andersson finally found a way past Tokarski to make the score 3-1 and give Sweden some hope but that was as close as the score would get.
Empty net goals from Eberle and Hodgson in the final two minutes put the game out of reach.
Hodgson ended the tournament with the scoring lead at 16 points. Canada had the top three scores in Hodgson, Tavares (15 points) and Eberle (13).