Canada has added another gold medal to its national vault of hockey hardware, this time from the 2003 IIHF World Championships courtesy of an Anson Carter goal at 13:49 of the 4-on-4 overtime, which had to be decided by a lengthy video review. It was the 18th gold medal for Canada in World Championships play since 1930. Final score, Canada 3, Sweden 2.
Referee Vladimir Sindler, who had done an impeccable job of officiating all night, had no choice but to review the overtime play which began with Carter skating down the right wing and blasting a shot at goalie Mikael Tellqvist. The goalie got a glove on the puck, but it fell to the side of the net and Carter picked up his own rebound, wheeled around the far side, and wrapped the puck around and in between Tellqvist's right pad and the goalpost.
Carter raised his arms in celebration and the Canadian bench emptied, but the goal light didn't go on and Sindler was in no position to make such a close and important call. He blew play dead and went to the penalty box to confer with the video goal judge, and after about seven or eight minutes Sindler pointed to centre ice, triggering a massive Canadian celebration while the Swedes looked confused and upset. Nevertheless, the video evidence was incontrovertible. The video goal judge had the opportunity to view seven different angles. One angle in particular showed the puck clearly crossing the line when they zoomed in close and ran through the sequence frame by frame. Canada's win was delayed, but it was fair and deserving.
To their full credit, Tre Kronor was sporting in defeat after a game that had been at times extraordinary, particularly the overtime, which was heartstopping for every second of the nearly 14 minutes of play. The game had got to the fourth period thanks to Shane Doan and Shawn Horcoff, who combined for a perfect play deep in the Swedish end midway through the third period.
Horcoff got the puck behind the net--Wayne Gretzky's office, as it were, carrying on an Edmonton tradition--and waited patiently for Doan to get free to Tellqvist's left. He fired a lovely pass to Doan, who buried the shot high to the short side at 9:03 of the third period. The rest of regulation was tense and sometimes wide open. P-J Axelsson had a magnificent shot in front that was gloved by Roberto Luongo, and a few minutes later the Canadian goalie made another huge pad save on Niklas Andersson.
Sindler pocketed his whistle and ignored some minor infractions, letting the players compete and decide the game. The most incredible moments of the last half of the period started when Mats Sundin had a breakaway down the right side, but as he cut in on Luongo and tried to put the puck along the ice to the far side, he lost control of the puck and it slid wide as 13,387 fans gasped, some in horror, some in glee.
As the puck went to the corner, a Canadian defenceman threw the puck up the middle to a breaking Doan, who had a breakaway of his own. He was stopped by Tellqvist. Then Peter Forsberg had control of the puck in the Canadian end for nearly 45 seconds as the period came to a close, and regulation time ended with what was unquestionably the most dramatic few minutes of this year's championship.
But, folks, the best was yet to come! Overtime. Four-on-four. It was as spectacular a stretch of hockey as you'll see in international competition. Players on both teams took shifts that lasted 20-30 seconds, and loss of possession by one team meant a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 the other way. Steve Reinprecht had a great chance for Canada early on, but Peter Nordstrom came right back and tested Luongo. Nordstrom had another great chance with a slapshot a few minutes later, and Carter also had a super opportunity barrelling down the right wing in a similar manner to the way in which he would score several minutes later.
The game started out decidedly in the Swedes' favor. They had control of play while the Canadians seemed tentative and nervous for most of the first period, in great measure because of the Swedish strategy of getting on the Canadian defencemen and pressuring the puck carrier. The less time the Canadian players had to think, the more turnovers Tre Kronor produced. The Swedes were rewarded midway through the period when Henrik Zetterberg made a fine rush down the right side off a turnover in the Canadian end. Luongo made the save as Zetterberg went to the net, but Mathias Tjarnqvist popped in the rebound to give the Swedes a 1-0 lead at 10:17.
Less than two minutes later, Canada had a power play, but it was Sundin and Axelsson who had the best scoring chance, Axelsson shooting just wide on a perfect pass from Sundin. The Swedes continued to dominate, and Peter Forsberg simply could not be knocked off the puck. Yet, to the credit of Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, the Canadian duo assigned to "Foppa" all night, the Forsberg line was held off the scoresheet despite its many quality scoring opportunities.
Late in the period, the Swedes opened up a huge 2-0 lead when Mikael Renberg fired a long bullet pass up the middle from one blueline to the other to Axelsson, who beat Luongo between the legs on the breakaway. The turning point, though, came less than a minute later when Canada struck back. First Craig Rivet missed a great chance to score when he shot wide, but moments later Horcoff scooped a loose puck to the side of the net with Tellqvist down and swiped it into the open side. That brought the score to 2-1 Sweden at 19:17, a goal that was crucial to giving Canada an emotional life before the end of the period.
It was a mini-comeback reminiscent of the semi-finals when the Czechs tied the game 3-3 early in the third period and then Canada regained the lead--and team confidence--a minute later.
In the second, Canada started out with greater conviction, but the Swedes played flawless defense and continued to pressure the Canadian man with the puck. Axelsson had another great chance but was bettered by Luongo's glove, and Forsberg continued to dominate down low. There were fewer scoring chances in the period, which helped Canada because it kept the game close while giving the Canadians reason to believe it was only a matter of time before they would tie the score.
In the third, the Swedes were less aggressive and gave Canada more ice as they tried to sit on the lead, a scenario that rarely works. Doan's tying goal midway through the period triggered the wild ending and amazing overtime which was extended to 20 minutes and reduced to 4-on-4 for the first time by the IIHF at this tournament. Its one previous use came in Canada's 3-2 quarter-final win over Germany, but tonight's OT action provided a drama of another order. Clearly this is a format that will be around a while.
At the start of the tournament, who would have thought this Canadian roster would play such superb defense and allow but a single power play goal? And, who would have thought the team would have an unbeaten record of 8-0-1!? The team won a medal at the World Championships for the first time since 1997, again in Finland, when it beat Sweden 2-1 in the final game of a best-of-three series. Players from this team who were there six years ago include Carter, Cory Cross, and the injured Sean Burke, as well as coach Andy Murray.
The most deserving player to win, though, might be captain Ryan Smyth, who has been playing in his fifth consecutive World Championships and has appeared in an all-time Canadian record of 42 games at these tournaments. It is his first medal, and it will, no doubt, look quite nice beside his Olympic gold from Salt Lake City 2002. The only other medalist here from 2002 is teammate and defenceman Eric Brewer, giving full measure to a Canadian team not made up of superstars.
The victory gives Canada the undisputed championship of world hockey for the present. The country has won consecutive gold medals in the U-18; it won silver at the U-20 in Halifax in January; it won gold at the 2002 Olympics; and now comes this gold at the 2003 IIHF World Championships. Add to that the fact that Canada is champion of the Spengler Cup and the Deutschland Cup, and the Canadian women are both 2002 Olympic champions and gold medal winners of all eight World Championships played.
The Swedes, meanwhile, have to go back to the 1998 World Championships when they won gold to find their last international hockey medal, but today's game was something every hockey lover can be proud of. This was hockey at its fastest, most skilled, and most dramatic. The true champions are the players and fans who played and watched. Thank you, Finland. See you in Prague and Ostrava next year.