EDMONTON, AB -- Canada completed the preliminary round of the World Junior Championships with a perfect 4-0 record as they edged the United States 3-2 in an intense New Years Eve tilt at rexall Place in Edmonton on Saturday.
It may have been cold outside, but Rexall Place was hot with anticipation for the one and only meeting of the cross boarder rivals, Canada and USA in the final match-up of the preliminary round in Pool B of the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships.
On paper, the game held very little meaning as both teams had solidified their spots in the standings with the Canadians grabbing first in Pool B and the Americans finishing a disappointing fourth. In reality, however, the game was very meaningful, indeed. The Americans had a lot to prove coming off two back to back losses to lesser opponents and Canada needed to show that they were worthy of the top spot and that they were a force to reckon with going forward in the tournament.
Goalie Jack Campbell summed up the feeling of the Americans.
“It’s not easy to get up and play a team like Canada after you just got eliminated from the tournament." “Any time you play the Canadians, you want to beat them. They’re obviously very difficult to play,”
The Canadians cracked the scoreboard first, much to the delight of the 16,647 fans at Rexall Place thanks to the continued efforts of forward Mark Stone, who notched his tournament leading seventh goal at 5:39 in the first period.
The Americans tried to use their physical strength to throw the Canadians off their game, but the Canadian offence was too much for the US team to handle. Team Captain Jaden Schwartz and speedy forward Brett Connolly each added markers to put the Canucks up by three to round out the scoring in the first frame.
Canadian goalie Scott Wedgewood had a quiet period with a total of eight shots, 11 fewer than his American counterpart Jack Campbell.
Neither team was successful in creating any offence in the second stanza but not due to a lack of effort from either team. The Americans outshot the Canadians but they were unable to put one past Wedgewood as he remained hot between the pipes.
Tempers flared when American Emmerson Etem was chasing down a puck and took out the Canadian goalie in open ice. Wedgewood lay on the ice for several minutes after having his legs taken out by the sliding forward. Thankfully for the Canadians, Wedgewood stepped back in the crease and resumed his stellar form.
It took two and a half periods, but the Americans finally ended their scoring drought. Charlie Coyle, a San Jose Shark prospect, slipped one past Wedgewood at the 10 minute mark of the third period. Jason Zucker made things even more interesting when he pulled the Americans within one with seven minutes remaining in the final frame. After that, Canadian head coach Don Hay called a time out to settle down his troops.
“It was a good time out for us to take,” commented forward Brendan Gallagher. “We needed to relax and get refocused and get back to work.”
The Canadian dominance was evident on the stat sheet as they led in every category; face off wins, shots on goal, power play goals, and scoring.
Off the stat sheet, the Canadians were clearly the better team tonight. For the most part, they played with confidence and they showed speed, finesse with the puck and an overall skill set that the Americans couldn’t match. They were successful in killing off each of the six penalties they had, including one five on three.
They wanted this win although many would say it was meaningless as it had no effect in the standings.
“There is a big rivalry between US and Canada,” chimed forward Tanner Pearson, “so that game isn’t meaningless. There is pride in the game.”
Canada now has a couple of days off as they have earned the bye in the quater finals of the medal round. They will use this time to prepare to take on the winner of the quarter final game between the Czech Republic and Russia who play on January 2, 2012 at 3:00pm at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
The Canadians will be ready for any team that stands between them and the gold medal. They have to be considered a favourite to go all the way.
Campbell summed it up the best. “You saw how good Canada is. They’re the best in the world.”Author: Jason Johnson