Canada got goals from skilled players and grinders, timely saves from goaltender Cam Ward and didn’t repeat any of the mistakes it had made earlier in the tournament on Sunday during a 4-2 win over Finland in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The country’s third gold at the event in the past five years only looked in doubt in the final minutes after Petri Kontiola and Antti Miettinen scored late. But the Canadians were able to hold on for the win after Rick Nash scored his second of the game with just over a minute to play.
The win earned St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray his third gold medal in four stints as Canada’s coach in the tournament.
“I’ve had the ability to surround myself with quality people,” Murray said afterwards about his impressive tenure at the world championship.”
The game was won with a solid first period. Nash and Eric Staal scored power-play goals and Ward made some key early saves to put Canada on the road to its ninth straight win at the tournament.
“He was unbelievable,” Nash said of his goaltender. “He kept us in a lot of games, and especially tonight, he was definitely the Conn Smyth winner.”
Colby Armstrong also scored for the Canadians, who went undefeated at this tournament for the first time since 2003.
This run to gold was stunning in its sheer efficiency. Canada outscored its opposition 13-4 during the playoff round games and seemed to get better each time out. The Canadians were bigger, stronger, faster and more disciplined than their opponents when the games counted most.
After the final buzzer sounded at Khodynka Arena on Sunday night, a Canadian team consisting of a few NHL veterans, role players, up-and-coming stars and a college forward lined up to receive gold medals. The average age of the team was 25.
Nash was named the tournament’s most valuable player and earned a spot on its all-star team. No other Canadian player was recognized with an individual award, which was only fitting for this team-first group.
Canada entered the event completely under the radar because many thought it didn’t have enough skill. Even general manager Steve Yzerman was worried that his team would have trouble scoring.
Those thoughts were quickly put to rest when energy line player Jamal Mayers had two goals in an opening win over Germany and Canada proceeded to get consistent offensive contribution from three of its forward lines.
The top unit of Doan, Matthew Lombardi and Nash was its most reliable. The trio led the way offensively.
Doan’s contribution went well beyond that as he handled the political controversy over his captaincy back home with grace. His hat trick against Belarus amidst that distraction in the qualifying round was a defining moment for the team.
The 29-year-old now has three world championship gold medals, the same number as defenceman Eric Brewer and Murray.
“This is very special,” Doan said. “This group here didn’t get a chance to win the Stanley Cup and to come here and win a world championship is special.”
Ultimately, Canada’s biggest strength was the way it played together. Players were subbed in and out of roles, Ward and Dwayne Roloson split the goaltending duties and everyone seemed willing to do what Murray asked.
The Canadians were also helped by a little luck as they avoided a final against powerful Russia when Finland knocked off the host country in the semifinal. Russia won the bronze medal on Sunday with a 3-1 win over Sweden.
The fans that stuck around for the gold medal game in the evening were strongly behind Canada. Chants of “Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!” echoed through the building early on.
Nash got the Canadians on the board at 6:30, just 13 seconds after Finnish defenceman Toni Soderholm had been penalized. The flashy winger skated in off the side boards, flipped the puck to his forehand and snapped a quick shot by goaltender Kari Lehtonen. He then raised his arms skyward, punctuating his fifth goal of the tournament with his most animated celebration yet.
Staal made it 2-0 on another power play at 13:48. The play started with defenceman Shea Weber jumping to keep the puck in the zone and ended with Staal taking a perfect backhand pass from Mike Cammalleri before sliding it past Lehtonen.
The Finns eventually got a power play of their own but Ward made two nice saves, including a chest stop on a tipped shot by Finnish forward Tomi Kallio.
Armstrong’s goal at 9:11 of the second period appeared to sink the Finns. He took a backhand pass from Jordan Staal, who became the youngest Canadian player ever to win a gold medal at this event, and beat Lehtonen with a soft wrist shot.
The game looked well in hand until Kontiola and Miettinen scored in the final period. That was as close as Finland would get.
All that was left was one final rendition of O Canada.
Notes: Finland is 1-6 in gold medal games . . . Canada beat Finland 2-1 in a shootout in the gold medal game in 1994 . . . Murray’s record at this event is 27-4-4 . He’s 17-0-1 in his last 18 games . . . His 27 career wins are second all-time to Dave King’s 29, but Murray’s coached in two fewer tournaments . . . It was the first world championship gold won by Canada on Russian soil.