wooWhen the world title had not come, the communication between Nick Paul and Conor Brown might never have been made public. But in this way the story can be told brilliantly. Two Canadian ice hockey professionals Paul and Brown trained together before the World Cup final in Latvia. And then Brown predicted to his colleague: The final against Finland would be extended and we, the two Ottawa Senators strikers, would decide that. “It’s crazy that it actually turned out like this,” Paul said hours later as he sat in the Riga Arena’s press room with the gold medal on his chest.
It was the seventh minute of extra time, it was 2–2 when the Canadians launched a counterattack. Paul on Brown, Brown back on Paul, and he pushes the puck into goal. A few seconds later, the club, gloves and helmet went up in the air. Like when an ice hockey team wins a title. Especially if it is a historic, as in the case of Canadians, the 27th World Cup gold. For the first time since 2008, the homeland of ice hockey tops the rankings. By that time, the Russians were at the front, capable of cheering 27 times, but because the Canadians took silver more often (15:10), they are now up again.
“Nobody gave us a chance”
It is not unusual for Canada to win the Ice Hockey World Cup. And yet now there is talk of a “surprise”, as the Canadians sent a C2D team to Latvia. It is now common in ice hockey that not every country performs at its best in the annual World Cup, with the NHL Elite League play-offs running in parallel, but the pandemic added to 2021. So out of 427 Canadian players who played in the NHL this year, only 17 regulars were found who wanted to wear jerseys with a maple leaf. The rest were talents who mostly play in the second-tier AHL or junior leagues.
Twelve players are 22 years of age or younger. And no one is a superstar, two of the best 50 Canadians on the NHL scorers list flew across the Atlantic. “No one gave us a chance,” said striker Maxim Komtois. Especially after a historically poor start with defeats against Latvia, the United States and Germany. “Not a good goalkeeper. Nobody hits the gate. Team chemistry? Unavailable. Team Canada’s first World Cup game was a disaster,” The Hockey News commented.
But no one panics, Comtois explained: “Whether you start with three wins or three losses, there is always pressure on you as Team Canada.” Rather, criticism at home and isolation in the “bubble” fused the team together. “There was nothing more to do,” said goal scorer Nick Paul, adding that they were hanging “24/7” on each other. Coach Gerard Gallant also knew his team would improve: “Otherwise we would come a week earlier and have two Test matches. This year we had to go into quarantine, train only three times and then play straight.”
There was a sort of preparation on the first day of the tournament: “From the third game, we played the way we wanted to play.” This was followed by victories over Norway, Kazakhstan and Italy. Because the strikers finally met. Above all, eventual scorer Adam Heinrich, along with top scorers Conor Brown and Andrew Mangiapen, who followed him, were the top scorers with seven goals in seven matches, the latter being named the most valuable player of the tournament. “He was the difference player, no question about it,” Gallant said.
Nevertheless, the Canadians trembled again, losing to Finland after a penalty shoot-out at the end of the preliminary round, and only because the Latvians went empty handed against Germany, with the Canadians slipping to fourth place in the knockout rounds. There they could not be stopped, eliminating group winners Russia and the United States and defending champions Finland in the final.
“We lied to everyone and played really well when it came out,” Comtois later said. He was asked whether the prospect of a 27th title was an additional motivation. “I didn’t know that,” replied the striker, “for Canada it’s always about gold. 27 is a good number, next year it will be 28. “There’s still the Olympics in the middle – maybe again of the NHL. With the big names, who are now world champions in Riga, they will watch them from the sofa at home.
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