BUFFALO-- It was an occurrence so rare, you couldn’t believe what you had heard: Canadian hockey fans jeering one of their own.
But that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday night when Team Canada defenceman Erik Gudbranson skated out to accept his player-of-the-game award on a night his teammate, Brayden Schenn, scored four goals en route to a 10-1 rout of Norway for the Canadians’ third straight win at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The crowd of 17,061, almost all Canadian faithfuls inside the HSBC Arena, clearly thought Schenn was more deserving of the honour.
“We were laughing at the blue line,” said Schenn. “I don’t know if a Team Canada guy has ever been booed getting (the) player-of-the-game award. He played well tonight, he had two goals and two pretty good shots there so he deserved it.”
Gudbranson was equally gracious, although he said he was surprised to hear his own fans turn on him.
“It’s a little disappointing,” said the Orleans, Ont., native. “But, hey, (Schenn) had a great game too, so it’s tough to compare with four goals.”
The tallies tied the Team Canada record for most goals in a single game, tying him with former junior stars and NHLers Simon Gagne and Mario Lemieux. Schenn has been Canada’s hottest player of late, scoring a goal and four assists on Tuesday night in a 7-2 victory over the Czech Republic and coming back the next night with four goals and one assist against Norway for 10 points in Canada’s last two games.
“Unbelievable,” said linemate Quinton Howden of Schenn’s performance. “Obviously (Tuesday) night he had a great performance and he followed it up again tonight. You can’t really say enough about him, he’s a phenomenal hockey player and he’s hot right now.”
So hot in fact, that Schenn managed to steal a goal – his fourth - from Howden with 3:25 left in the game when he jumped in front of the winger in order to tap the puck past goaltender Lars Volden.
“He was laughing at it,” said Schenn of Howden’s reaction to his play. “We were smiling on the ice there, but I guess I wanted it more.”
“He was diving for it, so I kind of just let him have it,” replied Howden. “It’ll take a while, but I’ll have to (forgive him).”
Schenn, who leads the tournament in scoring with 12 points in three games, has been a powerhouse for Canada after a slow start in camp, which was understandable since he had only played in a total of 17 games since the start of the NHL season in October. He started the season with the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in the first round, fifth overall, in the 2009 NHL entry draft. But the Kings treated him like a yo-yo – keeping him with the NHL club before sending him down to their AHL affiliate in Manchester on a conditioning assignment – before finally deciding to return him to the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
“In selection camp I really didn’t feel like I was at the top of my game and I used the three pre-tournament games to get ready for this,” said the 19-year-old who played two WHL games before heading to Canada’s camp. “I didn’t play a whole lot of hockey in the first half, but now my legs are under me and I got my speed back and I feel pretty good.”
It was Schenn’s second goal of the game that chased 17-year-old Norwegian goaltender Steffan Soberg from net, with the youngster pulling himself from the game after giving up five goals on only 12 shots.
“It was my decision,” said Soberg of leaving the net in favour of Volden. “It wasn’t my day… I didn’t play well so I thought that would be for the best.
“I tried to do my best, but we had a hard start. It was just a tough game for me.”
As soon as Schenn scored, Soberg headed directly to the Norwegian bench and when it was time for the P.A. announcer to broadcast the scoring of the goal, he mistakenly pronounced his name as “Sheen” prompting catcalls from the crowd. Minutes later, Canadian fans took it upon themselves to correct the announcer's mistake with chants of “Schenn! Schenn! Schenn!”.
“I didn’t even hear that, I heard they were chanting something but I wasn’t sure it was just kind of a random cheering,” said Schenn, whose older brother Luke is a defenceman with the NHL’s Maple Leafs. “I was told in the intermission by (Team Canada defenceman) Tyson Barrie that they were chanting my name to say it right. I said before that just shows you there’s a lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans in the area.”
According to head coach Geir Hoff, Norway has roughly 150 of what they would consider top junior hockey players to choose from for this tournament. The last time they were in the top division at the world junior championship was in 2006, where they finished last out of 10 teams and were promptly relegated back to Division I.
“Norway is a skiing nation," said Hoff. "We have cross-country and different sports that take a lot of the kids (from hockey), but we’re trying to do a good job with youth hockey and hockey schools.”
Asked if the tables were turned, who would come out on top of the slopes, Schenn delivered some of his trademark humour.
“They’d have a lot more practice than us,” said Schenn. “Especially me – a Saskatchewan boy – we make our mountains out of garbage, so they would definitely beat me.”