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Caps rookie Carlson was last year's WJC hero

by Mike G. Morreale /
Almost a year later, John Carlson still can't help but grin when asked to recall the shot heard 'round the hockey world that put an exclamation point on one of the greatest finishes to a gold-medal game in the illustrious history of the World Junior Championship -- if you're a fan of the United States.

With one sweeping snap shot 4:21 into overtime, the current Washington Capitals defenseman ended a five-year Canadian stranglehold on the gold medal, giving Team USA a 6-5 victory in Saskatoon, Canada. The matchup marked the first meeting between the North American rivals in the gold-medal contest since the U.S. rallied in Helsinki, Finland, en route to its first gold medal of the tournament in 2004.

The winning goal was actually Carlson's second of the game -- a moment he'll cherish forever.

"It was a huge accomplishment but it wasn't as big a deal around here as it was in Canada," Carlson told "I think mostly just my teammates gave me a hard time about it, but it's obviously a good thing, so I'll take it."

Carlson recalls entering the unknown when he and his American teammates began preliminary-round play at the 2010 WJC on Dec. 26.

"I watched the WJC before, but never really been to it as a kid, so I didn't know what to expect and went in with my eyes wide open," Carlson said. "Anytime it's international hockey, there's a little bit added … not pressure, but more fun. Seeing different countries playing against each other, there's a little more pride on the line, so it was a great experience."

Carlson, who was an alternate captain for Team USA, performed incredibly well at the World Juniors despite the tremendous pressure he and his mates were under. He finished with 4 goals, 7 points and a plus-8 rating in 7 tournament games.

"There was pressure but it's your job," he said. "I think you get fairly used to it after a little bit but, at the end of the day, you're always getting those butterflies in the big situations. Still, those are moments you want to be on the ice; I want to be in those situations."

The contest marked the third meeting between Canada and the United States in the World Junior gold medal game. Canada scored a 2-0 victory in Switzerland in 1997 before the U.S. took a 4-3 victory in Finland in 2004.

Carlson admits his club was confident prior to stepping on the ice against the Canadians in the gold medal game on Jan. 5.

"We were a great team," Carlson said. "We outplayed them in the first game (a 5-4 shootout loss) and they came back pretty strong to win it. It wasn't like they were dominating us and it was a powerhouse versus an underdog. I think that we were right there, so it wasn't too bad. I think we went into overtime just thinking, 'Let's bury our heads and go to work, lay it all on the line and see what happens.'

"It ended pretty good."

Carlson knows this year's tournament is going to be equally exciting, particularly in Buffalo, N.Y.

"The rivalry (between the United States and Canada) is picking up again so it's going to fun to watch," he said.

Carlson, who now has his sights set on helping the Capitals win a Stanley Cup, offered some sound advice to all those World Junior participants this year.

"Don't just let it fly by," he said. "Really cherish the opportunity and the whole experience because it's something you can take away with you for a long time."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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