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Captain Jack Leads The Way For Team USA

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Could the Americans have scripted this any better?

The 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship is only 48 hours old, let’s not forget, but Team USA has opened with a flourish. As head coach Scott Gordon has said, they are not the most skilled team in the tournament, they are not the fastest team – but they have a high level of determination and motivation to create a special memory.

After an authoritative 7-2 win over France yesterday in Helsinki, Team USA knew its barometer was lurking this afternoon. A motivated Canadian team that underachieved in last year’s tournament awaited its toughest test so far, and despite sputtering at times against Slovakia, it’s no secret the Americans would likely have to beat Canada twice to win a gold medal.

Captain Jack Johnson played a big role in getting the first one out of the way on Saturday in Helsinki.

The Blue Jackets defenseman scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner at 1:47 of overtime, to lift the United States to a 5-4 victory over their rivals from north of the border. Team USA shrugged off a disappointing blown lead in the final minutes as Duncan Keith rallied the Canadians with under two minutes in regulation, got a break with a delay of game penalty to John Tavares with one second left in the third period, and capitalized on the man advantage.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard was solid in making 42 saves, several of high quality as Canada kept pushing in a see-saw third period. Patrick Dwyer sneaked in a wraparound while shorthanded to give the U.S. a 3-2 lead at 6:43, but Canada answered with a sneaky wrister from Evander Kane just over three minutes later.

Team USA broke the tie yet again as Nate Thompson drove hard to the net and backhanded a loose puck through Cam Ward with 3:41 to play, but Keith’s slap shot brought things back to all square. In the overtime, the Americans had several looks but couldn’t get the puck through to Ward. Johnson kept the puck alive along the blue line, walked into the high slot and buried the winner through Ward’s legs – securing the fourth-ever U.S. victory over Canada in the World Championship, and the first since 2001.

In the loss, Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot played 12:33 and registered one shot on goal. He missed Canada’s opener due to a lower-body injury. Johnson led all players with 25:44 TOI.

WHAT’S TO LIKE: The talk prior to the tournament was the speed of Team USA and how it could give more skilled clubs (like Canada) some trouble. We saw that on Saturday, as Gordon was not afraid to roll lines and use his team’s attacking style to disrupt the Canadian defensemen. Jim Slater’s early goal in the first period was an example of that – hitting the blue line with speed and having guys drive to the net. Although Canada responded twice in the third period, the Americans stuck to their system and did not sit back.

WHAT’S NEXT: Team USA plays its next game on Monday against Slovakia. The game starts at 1:15 E.T. and will be aired live on NBC Sports Network.


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