CALGARY – He may have had a medal of a lesser colour around his neck, but Mark Visentin could talk about his performance with pride this time.
The goaltender was the feel-good story behind Canada’s bronze-medal win at the at the world junior hockey championship Thursday.
Visentin stopped a penalty shot in the second period, executed a behind-the-back glove save in the third period and made 27 saves in a 4-0 shutout of Finland.
Visentin was in goal in last year’s final in Buffalo, N.Y., where Russia scored five times in the third period to beat Canada 5-3 for gold.
While Visentin wasn’t entirely to blame for Canada’ collapse there, he’s had to wear it for a year. The Niagara IceDog was constantly reminded of it as this year’s tournament approached.
After his final game this year, he could feel good knowing he helped Canada extend a streak of winning a medal in this tournament to 14 straight years.
“Our best player was Mark Visentin who played outstanding and made big saves in each period,” said head coach Don Hay. “I’m really happy for Mark and what he’s gone through from last year’s tournament.
“He really competed hard and it’s great to see Mark play so well today and get the shutout.”
Canada had played in the tournament final every year for the previous decade and had won five gold in that span. The Canadians were playing for bronze for the first time since winning it in Russia in 2001.
Down three players due to injuries and a suspension, the short-staffed Canadian team had to dig into its reserves and needed a big game from Visentin. The Phoenix Coyotes prospect delivered and was named player of the game.
“Obviously it’s disappointing we couldn’t play for gold this year,” Visentin said. “You know what? We wouldn’t have been satisfied with fourth place.
“I’m not going to say we’re satisfied with bronze, but I’m still proud of having a bronze medal in my hand, and when I look at in 30 years I’ll be proud of it and hopefully I can show my kids.”
Quinton Howden scored two goals while Tanner Pearson and Mark Scheifele had the others before 18,595 spectators, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at Scotiabank Saddledome. Pearson, who plays for the Barrie Colts, stepped up in the absence of two missing forwards, with a goal and an assist.
Finland’s Sami Aittokallio stopped 40 shots.
Canada was down to 19 players, missing defenceman Scott Harrington and forwards Boone Jenner and Devante Smith-Pelly. Harrington suffered a shoulder injury in last Saturday game against the U.S., but he played in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia on Tuesday.
Jenner, the tournament leader in faceoffs won, was serving a one-game suspension for spearing Russian captain Evgeni Kuznetsov in the semifinal. Smith-Pelly broke his foot blocking a shot in the first game of the tournament.
So it was a thin Canadian lineup heading into the game, still feeling emotionally drained from the loss to Russia. Trailing 6-1 in the third period in that game, the Canadians had mounted a comeback that fell a goal short.
“I wish we could have tied it up and pushed it into a situation where we had an opportunity to win that game,” Hay said. “The tournament is very competitive. There are very good teams here and for us to rebound with a good effort was really positive for us.”
Finland came into the game feeling similar emotions to Canada. After leading for almost three periods, the Finns lost 3-2 in a shootout to Sweden in their semifinal. Russia and Sweden met for gold later Thursday.
“We were so close against Sweden,” forward Teemu Pulkkinen said. “This was a tough game of us. The better team won today. We were tired. We played a long game against Sweden.”
Canada’s players received a standing ovation when they took the ice Thursday at Scotiabank Saddledome, which was almost full despite the afternoon start time. They received another ovation in the final minute of the game.
After hearing their anthem with their arms linked across each other’s shoulders, the Canadian players hugged each other and prepared to say goodbye.
“We wanted to end it on a winning note for those three guys who had to sit out. We really wanted to win it for them, for each other, all of you guys and our entire country,” Visentin told reporters.
The three other Niagara IceDogs on the Canadian team this year were thrilled to see their goaltender leave this tournament with a smile on his face.
“He was just there whenever we needed him and helped us stay calm,” Freddie Hamilton said. “It’s obviously a better send off on this note than last year and I’m just happy for the way he played.
“He should have a lot more confidence the rest of the season and be a lot happier with how it ended.”
Early in the third, Visentin reached around behind his back and gloved the puck out of the air for one of his many standout saves.
“I’m going to have to get it on DVD and make sure I save it for a long time,” he said with a grin. “It was pretty wicked to watch the puck go off my shoulder and off the cross-bar.
“I was kind of worried that I swept so far back that I put it in my own net, but once I saw it on the replay and the crowd started to go nuts, I had a feeling it wasn’t in.”
Visentin stopped Pulkkinen on a penalty shot late in the second when officials ruled he’d thrown his stick, although he maintained he just dropped it. After shutting down Pulkkinen, Visentin smacked the puck away.
“I was real pumped up,” he said. “Words can’t describe my emotions at the time. It was a lot of fun making that save and I enjoyed every second of it.”
The 2013 world junior hockey championship will be held in Ufa, Russia, and in Sweden the following year. The tournament returns to Canada for 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021.
There are seven players eligible to play for Canada again in Ufa, but some of them will likely have NHL commitments at that time. When Hay asked if he’d want to coach the team again, he said he’ll need some time to think about that.
The 2012 world junior tournament in Alberta sold 571,000 tickets, but not all were used. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said in a news conference following Canada’s win that attendance for the tournament will be over 440,000.