Sunday, May 09, 2004

Team Canada Hockey Club wins the Gold

Canada golden again
Heatley named tournament MVP
U.S. claims bronze in shootout


The Star

PRAGUE — These guys just don't quit.
Jay Bouwmeester of the Florida Panthers broke a 3-3 tie 20 seconds into the third period Sunday as Team Canada rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits to beat Sweden 5-3 and capture its second straight gold medal at the world hockey championship.

And they did in nearly the same fashion as last year in Helsinki, falling behind 2-0 to the Swedes before charging back.

Matt Cooke of the Vancouver Canucks, Rob Niedermayer of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers and captain Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers also scored for Canada (7-1-1), who captured back-to-back world championships for the first time since the Whitby Dunlops (1958) and Belleville McFarlands (1959) turned the trick nearly half a century ago.

The back-to-back gold medals also give Canada four world titles since 1977, the year NHL players began playing in the tournament (1994 and '97 as well).

Also Sunday, the United States won a surprise bronze after defeating Slovakia 1-0 in a shootout, giving both North American countries a medal in the same world championship for the first time since 1996.

Heatley was named tournament MVP.

"It's great to repeat," said Heatley. "Both years are special. Coming together as a group is such a Canadian thing. We came together and really believed in each other. We fought back and clawed back in the last three games, it's such an awesome way to win."

"I love playing for Canada, any chance I get I love putting on the Maple Leaf. It's a great hockey country and lots of fun to play for."

Shawn Horcoff was one of eight returning players.

"It's so different than last year," he said. "In 2003, we knew right off the bat that we could win it. This year it was really a grind. We had some obstacles to overcome before we got it going."

As the Canadian players celebrated on the ice, many clutched their young children, including Smyth, who addressed the team in the locker-room later.

"We're not only proud of ourselves in here but we made Canada proud," Smyth told his teammates before the Champagne was uncorked.

Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators, Swedish league star Andreas Salomonsson and former Toronto Maple Leaf Jonas Hoglund replied for Sweden, who suffered its first loss of the tournament (6-1-2).

Netminder Roberto Luongo of the Panthers recovered from a shaky start to stand tall once again for Canada, stopping 28 shots. The Swedes have had just about enough of Luongo, who made 37 saves in last year's gold medal final.

"Again we're down 2-0 we battled back," Luongo told TSN. "Deep down inside I knew we were going to come back. It was important for me to shut the door after that."

At the other end of the spectrum, 22-year-old goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a New York Rangers prospect who had been the surprise of the tournament for Sweden, crumbled after Canada tied the game in the second period.

Canada's No. 1 objective was to limit superstar Peter Forsberg as much as possible, and Horcoff's checking line with Niedermayer and Cooke did just that, keeping the Colorado Avalanche centre to one assist.

With the win, star defencemen Scott Niedermayer of the New Jersey Devils became the 14th player all-time to win a world championship, Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup ring. Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Brendan Shanahan are the only other Canadians in the select club.

Niedermayer said he was especially happy for his brother Rob.

"Just to be able to play together is amazing," said Scott Niedermayer. "For my brother, who maybe hasn't been as lucky as I have in my career, he played like any winning player on any winning team plays. He played as hard as he could. I'm as proud as anyone could be of him."

It didn't look promising early on Sunday.

It was just the kind of start for Canada that head coach Mike Babcock surely had nightmares about.

"It's typical Canadian character," said Canadian GM Jim Nill. ``We faced adversity throughout the tournament but found a way to get it done."

The Swedes came charging out of the gates and were up 2-0 less than eight minutes into the first period, Hoglund finding the top shelf over a screened Luongo during a Sweden power play and Alfredsson finding the inside of the post on a breakaway.

Forsberg set up the Alfredsson goal with a long pass down the middle, the Canadians looking confused as they tried to get the Horcoff checking line on the ice to match up with the superstar Swede.

Smyth restored hope at 13:58, shovelling a Brendan Morrison pass from behind the net into an open net after the Vancouver Canucks centre forced Lundqvist to commit on a deke.

Canada came out stronger in the second period, the passes crisper and on the tape, the decisions more confident.

And Daniel Briere thought he had tied it 2-2, his slapshot beating a screened Lundqvist but ramming off the crossbar.

The Swedes came charging back down on a 2-on-1 after the near miss, Hoglund feeding Salomonsson for a one-timer that Luongo was slow to react to and got beat top corner on the glove side.

It was 3-1 and several Canadian players on the bench were slouched over in disbelief.

Then came Superman. Heatley took a long, looping pass from Bouwmeester and cut in from the right boards and lifted a shot over Lundqvist's left shoulder and just under the cross-bar to make it 3-2 at 14:44. It was his tournament-leading eighth goal.

The Canadian bench erupted, its confidence restored.

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