EDMONTON - Canada's junior hockey team saluted the crowd and passed autographed sticks over the glass as Edmonton's Rexall Place chanted, "We want gold."
Canada capped a perfect run in the preliminary round of the world junior hockey championship with a 3-2 win over the United States on Saturday night. The team now heads south to Calgary to play in Tuesday's semifinal, where they will face either Russia or the Czech Republic.
Mark Stone led the host country with a goal and an assist. Jaden Schwartz and Brett Connolly also scored for Canada in front of 16,647. Scott Wedgewood made 30 saves for his second win of the tournament.
The Canadian players signed white souvenir sticks before the game, saluted the crowd with them and then handed them to outstretched hands. For defenceman Mark Pysyk, a Sherwood Park native and the only Alberta-born player on the Canadian team, it was an emotional moment.
"I think the last time I saw this building like this was the Stanley Cup run for the Oilers," Pysyk said of the 2006 NHL championship. "It's a lot different being a part of it. It's unbelievable out there. You just get the chills."
Charlie Coyle and captain Jason Zucker replied for the U.S. in the third period. Goaltender Jack Campbell, playing in his third straight world junior tournament, made 32 saves.
Canada (4-0) had already secured first in Pool B and a bye to the semifinals heading into the game, while the U.S. (1-3) already knew it was headed for relegation round.
So what had been billed as the New Year's Eve showdown lacked urgency. Bursts of spirited play and flashes of ill-will between the North American rivals were mixed with lulls and stretches that looked like shinny.
The Canadians were faster out of the gates than the Americans, building a 3-0 lead after the first period. The U.S. picked up the pace after that.
Two American goals within a four-minute span starting at 9:49 of the third period put pressure on Canada to preserve the win. After the second goal, Canadian head coach Don Hay called a timeout to settle his players down.
"We knew the U.S. had played yesterday and we wanted to get off to a great start with the fans behind us and we were able to do that," Hay said. "The U.S. showed their character and really battled back. The game will make us a better team.
"Whenever you have to deal with a little bit of adversity and a little bit of pressure, it's good for you. You really see some things from your players when the game gets on the line and how they think the game."
Canada outscored its opposition 26-5 in the preliminary round. They depart for Calgary on Sunday morning and have two days off before the semifinal.
Finland (3-1) secured second place in Pool B with a 4-0 win Saturday over the Czechs (2-2), who finished third.
As Pool B wrapped up in Edmonton, Sweden (4-0) beat Russia 4-3 in overtime to win Pool A in Calgary and earn a bye into the semifinals. Russia (3-1) meanwhile will meet the Czechs in Monday's quarter-final, with the winner facing Canada.
Slovakia secured third in the pool and a quarter-final berth with a 6-4 win over the Swiss earlier. They'll face the Finns in the other quarter-final. The U.S., Denmark, Switzerland and Latvia fall to the relegation round.
After playing four games in six days, the pace slows down for Canada with two over the next five. Depending on their semifinal result, they'll play for either gold or bronze Thursday in Calgary.
The Canadians looked ready to cruise to another win in Edmonton, outshooting the U.S. 19-8 in the first period.
But the U.S. came to life in the second period and provided some fireworks. American forward Emerson Etem and Wedgewood got in a footrace for a loose puck in the zone. After Wedgewood cleared the puck, the Medicine Hat Tiger submarined him.
Wedgewood sprawled on the ice and was slow to get up, but returned to the net.
"He lay down to try and block that pass and give himself an opportunity and I couldn't jump high enough in time," Wedgewood said. "I was a little shook up, but no worse for wear."
Canadian defenceman Scott Harrington left the ice in the first half of the game and did not return. Hay said it was an ''upper-body" injury, but didn't expect it to keep Harrington out of the semifinal.
"I'm sure he'll be ready to play," Hay said.
Also, defenceman Nathan Beaulieu's cheek was swollen like a chipmunk's after taking a Stephen Johns shot off the face in the third period.
Canadian forward Brendan Gallagher was named player of the game. His speed and grit harried the Americans. The Vancouver Giant had several chances to score, but couldn't convert.
"You know when you get chances you're doing something right," Gallagher said. "I know eventually I've got to score. A goal could have really helped us tonight. The next couple games, I've got to be able to put those in."
Zucker, behind the net, put the puck off the back of Wedgewood and into the net at 13:12 of the third. Coyle's shot at the faceoff circle from behind a screen beat Wedgewood far side at 9:49 for the Americans' first goal.
Coyle, who played Boston University, will become a Saint John Sea Dogs teammate of Canada's Jonathan Huberdeau and Beaulieu after the world junior championship.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly scored Canada's third goal in the first period. On a two-on-one with Quinton Howden, Connolly beat Campbell with a low shot far side at 15:59.
Schwartz scored his first goal of the tournament thanks to some hard work along the back boards by Stone. Stone fed the puck to Schwartz on Campbell's doorstep and the captain made it 2-0 at 10:12.
Stone and his set-up man Huberdeau opened the scoring at 5:39. Dougie Hamilton sent the puck to Huberdeau in the corner and he put the puck on Stone's tape for a power-play goal at 5:39.
Notes: Canada is 31-6-3 all time versus the U.S. at the world junior hockey championship . . . Barry Kazimer of Campbell River, B.C., put 11-of-20 pucks in the net to win three electric cars ????????? one for himself and two relatives ????????? in the Chevrolet Volt Million Dollar Shootout, but he needed to put 15 or more in to win $1 million.