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Canada's unprecedented streak continues

World Cup title solidifies period of dominance in international play

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- Team Canada could not be defeated.

Not when it dominated the competition. Not when it was outplayed by an impressive underdog. Not even when it trailed by a goal with less than three minutes left in Game 2 of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 final Thursday.

A deflection for a power-play goal with 2:53 to go. A goal post and a save killing a penalty. Then a drop pass and wrist shot for a shorthanded goal with 43.1 seconds left, and just like that, Brad Marchand was jumping for joy once, twice, three times into the arms of Alex Pietrangelo. A blink later, that was it.

Team Canada had come back to defeat Team Europe 2-1. It had swept the best-of-3 series and finished the tournament 6-0-0. 

"In the end, you've got to deliver," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "You can say anything you want about the game tonight, but we delivered. … Our guys believe they're going to win. I thought we turned it up to a level that we ended up winning."

Video: CAN@EUR, Gm2: Decisive moments of Canada's WCH win

The players tossed aside their gloves, sticks and helmets. They pulled on their championship hats and put their arms around each other as their flag rose and their anthem played before the home crowd at Air Canada Centre.

"You're just trying to take every moment of it in," Marchand said, "because you know you're going to look back on this and wish you could do it over and over again."

Canada does do it over and over again, though. Each team is different. Each tournament is different. But the results remain the same.

What we have witnessed is the most dominant period amid 40 years of Canadian dominance.

The Canada Cup began pitting the best against the best in international tournaments in 1976, the World Cup replaced it in 1996, and NHL players started participating in the Olympics in 1998. Of the 13 tournaments, Canada has won nine. No other country has won more than one.

Canada won four of five Canada Cups, including the last three in 1984, 1987 and 1991. But even in that era, which included the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Canada didn't have a run like this.

Video: CAN@EUR, Gm2: Crosby, Canada lift WCH trophy

It has now won five of the past six best-on-best tournaments, including the past three: the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the 2004 World Cup, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the 2014 Sochi Olympics and this tournament.

They have now won 16 straight games in best-on-best tournaments, an unprecedented streak.

Amazing to think that losing to Team USA in the final of the 1996 World Cup and failing to win a medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics caused a crisis of confidence so great, a summit was held to discuss what was wrong with Canadian hockey.

Amazing to think that failing to win a medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics caused a crisis too.

"Canada's been Canada," Gretzky said Tuesday as he spoke about this World Cup. "We've been as good as we've ever been. We sell our sport worldwide. The game is getting bigger all the time, each and every year. But we seem to be getting better and better in our own country. Everybody always gets nervous and scared. Are we losing our game? We're never going to lose our game. It's Canada's game."

Babcock and seven players -- Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry -- have tied together the last three teams. Others have emerged from a talent pool deeper than any other nation's. This team was so deep it went undefeated despite losing four players to injury: Jamie Benn, Jeff Carter, Duncan Keith and Tyler Seguin.

Whether on the larger international ice or smaller NHL sheet, it hasn't mattered. Babcock has taken full advantage of his talent and depth, rolling four forward lines and three defense pairings, pushing the pace, pressuring the puck, possessing the puck, wearing down opponents. Players accept their roles. Success and belief begets success and belief.

Video: CAN@EUR, Gm2: Canada rejoices win with flag raising

Sochi was incredible. Not only did Canada go 6-0-0-0, it never trailed. It allowed only three goals, zero in the semifinal and final.

This was close. Not only did Team Canada go 6-0-0, it trailed for only 2:41 in its first five games until it played from behind most of Game 2 on Thursday. It played only one one-goal game: Thursday. It outscored the opposition 24-8.

Success and belief should beget success and belief again, for this generation and the next.

This is what Babcock said he told his players: "I'm proud of you. I'm proud that we're building fans, but we're building hockey players to follow you. They want to be the next one. We keep celebrating success, and the only way you get to celebrate being the best in the world is when you prove it, and so we've been fortunate to do it many times."

Perhaps this will inspire hockey players in other nations too. We don't know whether the NHL will participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. We don't know exactly what form future World Cups will take. But we do know someone needs to challenge Canada for hockey supremacy because right now this great team has no foil, none but its own history.

"Team Canada just rose to the top again, and the Canadian national program needs to be complimented for the players they're producing," Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said. "Hopefully it makes everybody else hungry to match what's happening here in Canada."

For now, though, this is something to savor from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

"To win with a team like this is an incredible feeling," Marchand said. "I think all of Canada kind of gets behind that. They all feel the enjoyment of that, feel the success from that. We all enjoy it together. It's not just our team. All of Canada will be celebrating tonight." 

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