For every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining, goes the old saying. After a bittersweet silver medal performance at the World Junior Championships three weeks ago, Jarrett Stoll’s silver lining isn’t much compensation for what he considers a dark cloud of losing the gold medal game to Russia. Even being named both WHL player of the week (Jan. 13-19) and a WHL Western Conference All-Star selection was little solace for the still simmering emotions.
Improving on the bronze medal performance a year earlier by Canada in Moscow, the captain of the 2002 national junior squad had the unenviable assignment of accepting the silver for his teammates. As team leader, it was one of the more difficult duties he had to perform. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in hockey,” said Stoll after arriving back in Cranbrook after a week’s vacation at home in Saskatchewan.
Although an experience of a lifetime and the country’s best result in four years, the second place finish still leaves a bitter taste in Stoll’s mouth. So much so that some three weeks after the end of the tournament the Yorkton native still hadn’t seen the now infamous overhead T.V. shot of the Russian goaltender Serguei Mylnikov purposely pushing the net off it’s moorings with less than twenty seconds remaining as the Canadians buzzed around the net in a wild flurry looking for the tying goal. It’s an offense that should’ve warranted a penalty shot and could’ve turned silver into gold for Canada. “The Russians getting the medal and taunting us the way they did and the way the game ended – there’s nothing we could’ve done,” said Stoll. “The buzzer rang, maybe if the clock would’ve stopped with a couple of seconds left, we could’ve talked to him (the referee). Then again, you know, it’s different, I don’t think the ref was going to make that call if his life depended on it.”
“It was very tough for us. We thought we deserved to win the tournament and be world champs, but such a close call – it’s such a fine line, one goal, one little play that beat us,” Stoll’s voice trailing off.
The Russians weren’t exactly honorable opponents throughout the tournament as they, or more specifically Russian star and Tampa Bay Lightning first round draft pick Alexander Svitov spat on Stoll’s line-mate Brian Sutherby during the Round-Robin portion of the tournament – a 5-2 win for Canada.
The animosity generated by the spitting incident, the show-boating by Ilya Kovalchuk in last year’s semi-final victory over Canada only added to the increasingly un-friendly rivalry between the two hockey super-powers that has grown into legend over the past thirty years.
When asked how players like himself and Brian Sutherby, among others that would inevitably be playing with and against their Russian rivals in the NHL in the coming years would deal with such issues, Stoll was candid. “What goes around, comes around. That’s true in any sport and in life. I’m sure Sutherby’s going to meet him a lot of times down the road and hopefully I will too.
“We don’t forget that. That kind of stuff lives with you. I don’t have any respect for that team that’s world champions.”
Going into the training camp for the W.J.C. and as a veteran, Stoll was just happy to be selected to be there to represent his country. Being a veteran of the prior year’s Bronze medal-winning club, it wasn’t a guarantee that he would be on the team but all things being equal, Stoll would most likely be part of the club. What he wasn’t expecting was the honor of being named captain of the national squad. “As camp went on he (Canadian Head Coach Stan Butler) told me a little bit beforehand and my agent also said to me that I have a chance to be captain of the team and to keep working hard.
“When he named me captain I was so excited and so jacked, the whole room starting clapping and they ( his teammates) were happy for me.
“You know, I respect all those guys so much, they’ll be my friends forever and I was just glad to be a part of that group.”
Stoll might’ve not accomplished his ultimate goal of bringing home the gold but on a personal level he did go along way to bettering his overall game at such a high level of competition. Something he hopes will pay dividends down the road in his chase for an NHL career with the Calgary Flames.
“Yeah, people talk,” said Stoll of his critics who say things like his skating needs work. “Some people say I’m a great skater, some people say I need to work on it. I can’t look at that (the criticism), I’ve just got take the positives and work on my weaknesses. Maybe that is a part of my game I can get quicker on, a lot of my defense and my whole game.
“That was one of the things when I went over there, I wanted to prove that I could play and play at a high level and make the jump to the NHL.”
Personal goals aside, Stoll feels there’s a certain emptiness coming home without the gold. Someday he’ll look back on this tournament with a certain fondness and appreciation. Right now, however, it’s still disappointing.
“The whole tournament we thought we were destined to win. We had such a great team and such great chemistry with each other, I mean, there was not one problem that whole month we spent we each other. Everybody was rolling through it and having fun, sometimes I can’t believe it’s over and that we lost. We had such high expectations and it’s very tough to come home with silver.
“Maybe down the road I’ll learn to accept it but right it’s still pretty fresh in the back of my mind.”