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The best read on Canada’s 6-5 loss in the IIHF world junior quarterfinals in Helsinki – the worst finish for the hockey nation since 1998 – would be that the sport’s power is being more equitably shared throughout the world.
Finland, which eliminated them on Saturday, has gone from being a goalie factory to a growing force to be reckoned with. Forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who had three assists, is pushing to be the top pick in next year’s NHL Draft. Patrik Laine, a power forward, is also one of the top-rated prospects entering next summer. Ditto defenseman Olli Juolevi, who scored the power-play goal to provide the winning margin.
So that’s the best read. The expected read, of course, will be the usual chronicling of who failed and how in Canada’s world junior quest; followed by the pushback that these are just kids playing a kids game – although 19-year-old Jake Virtanen, whose double-minor late in the third period may have been the game’s deciding moment, has played 19 games with the Vancouver Canucks this season after winning gold with Team Canada last tournament.
Then there will be the analysis of which players could have been there, but weren’t, following by months of introspection about what went wrong.
Rinse, repeat, whenever Canada falls short.
So who goes in the gallows for this shortfall? Virtanen, for one. As John Matisz wrote yesterday:
Jake Virtanen was supposed to be a difference maker for Canada, a point producer unafraid to muck it up. The Vancouver Canucks forward has mucked it up, sure, and has accumulated 10 shots, but he is without a goal or an assist through four games. He took a silly penalty in the early stages of Canada's game Thursday, which led to a Swedish goal 17 seconds later. Considering this is his second kick at the world junior can, it's fair to label Virtanen as a major disappointment.
He didn’t do anything to change the impression in the elimination game.
Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who just earned his entry-level deal from the New Jersey Devils, got the start against Finland and was arguably the Finn’s MVP … while playing goal for Canada: 23 saves on 29 shots. Brutal. Neither he nor Mason McDonald had a particularly strong tournament, so cue another round of “where have all the goalies gone?” for Canada.
Finally, it’ll fall on the guy who kept Blackwood in the game: Coach Dave Lowry. What a disaster. An assistant coach on last year’s gold medal team who was elevated to the big job, he managed his bench terribly and decided Blackwood was his hill to die on in the quarterfinal loss.
Time after time in this tournament, Lowry went loyalty over logic in some of his player usage, a trend that continued through Canada's last moments in the tournament.
Check out more coverage from Yahoo's junior hockey blog, Buzzing The Net, here.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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