You can’t practice pressure.
Those were the words head coach Dave Cameron used on the eve of the 2022 World Junior Championship’s gold-medal game, as he envisioned the situation awaiting his team. Well, on Saturday , Aug. 20, out on the ice at Rogers Place with the lights beaming down, his team came face-to-face with that pressure, walked right through it, and touched history.
After the heartbreak that spilled across this ice in the world junior finale 19 months ago, Canada is golden once again
Reclaiming that crown didn’t come easy, though.
After a nervous start from both sides that saw pucks bouncing off sticks and shots flying wide, it was the captain, Mason McTavish, who settled his team down, as he has all tournament. Intercepting a puck along the left wall midway through the opening period, the Anaheim Ducks prospect showed some veteran poise as he patiently wheeled around the Finnish net and got a shot off, leading to a rebound tucked in by linemate Joshua Roy.
It’s what McTavish has been doing every night during this tournament, which saw him put a point up in every game of Canada’s golden run, finish as the tournament’s leading scorer, and tie Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros on Canada’s all-time single-tourney scoring list.
But while the captain’s continued dominance might’ve been needed to get his team into the game in the first, the Canadians sent an early message in the second period to let the Finns know they’d shaken off any golden jitters, tallying their second goal of the game less than a minute in.
And what a goal it was — a silky smooth rush up ice from defender Olen Zellweger, who’s been an irreplaceable cog in Canada’s offensive machine, a drop-pass to William Dufour, and a beautiful curl-and-drag from the New York Islanders prospect that finished with the puck fluttering the twine.
But the Finns mounted a late attack, scoring twice in the third to tie the game up at 2-2, heaping all the pressure onto the host nation’s shoulders. The deadlock held as 60 minutes expired, forcing both sides into a do-or-die overtime for the gold.
In the end, it was Kent Johnson who stepped up and closed it out, sniping the medal-clinching goal to preserve Canada’s undefeated streak right ’til the end.
One night ago, McTavish stood in the bowels of Rogers Place in his Canada sweater, a white ‘C’ stitched to his chest, and took a moment to reflect on what it would mean to get to this point. What it would mean to raise that trophy, to hear that anthem, to have that medal draped around his neck.
“It’s something special,” he’d said then, a fire in his eyes. “You know, it’s why you play the game. Every kid dreams about the gold-medal game.”
Now, for a new generation of young Canadians, when they dream those golden dreams they’ll remember McTavish. His arms raised, his gloves flying, the crowd on its feet. They’ll remember the black jerseys piling on Dylan Garand at one end of the sheet, and then lined up single file, gold glinting over their maple leaf-adorned chests.
They’ll remember this team, champions once again.