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U.S., Canada showcase NHL's future in WJC final

by Mike G. Morreale
Don't expect the buzz surrounding Tuesday's epic conclusion to the 2010 World Junior Championships in Saskatoon to subside anytime soon -- and for the Americans, rightfully so.

Team USA defenseman John Carlson ended the game 4:21 into overtime on a quick snap shot off an odd-man rush to dethrone Team Canada, which was gunning for an unprecedented sixth-consecutive crown. The matchup marked the first meeting between the international rivals in the gold-medal contest since the U.S. rallied in Helsinki for its first gold medal in the tournament back in 2004.

Not only was the hockey world presented with one of the greatest gold-medal games in the tournament's 34-year history, but we were also given a glimpse of what's in store on an NHL level in the not-so-distant future.

Sound crazy? New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise, a key member of that gold-medal winning American team in the 2004 WJC, doesn't think so.

"If it's not like that, it should be because these are the guys who will be in the NHL; these are the guys who are going to be the future great players in the NHL," Parise told "I think it's good because the U.S. is just really starting to learn about it. It'll certainly help with these guys winning, but it's great that they're finally televising it here in the U.S. for us and people are starting to learn and understand what it is and how big of a tournament it is. That's great for hockey in the States."

A total of 35 players competing in Tuesday's gold-medal contest already have been drafted by NHL teams, including 20 for the Canadians. The Los Angeles Kings had the most Canadian prospects on the team with goalie Martin Jones, forwards Brayden Schenn and Brandon Kozun and defenseman Colten Teubert.

The New York Rangers had a team-high three players on Team USA, forwards Ryan Bourque, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

Parise, who had 5 goals and 11 points in six games in the 2004 WJC, admitted watching the U.S. win the game brought back fond memories. In fact, Parise, Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, who were teammates on that '04 championship team, will be reunited on Team USA once again in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month.

"I remember we had a lot of fun -- we all knew each other so we were pretty good friends as it was," Parise said. "I think everyone remembers the championship game more than anything; how we came back and beat Canada (4-3) when (Patrick) O'Sullivan scored that fluky goal at the end."

Trailing 3-1 after two periods, the Americans tied the score early in the third on goals by Kesler and O'Sullivan. The game-winner came with just under five minutes left in regulation. Canadian goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a successful poke check to stop a breakaway by O'Sullivan, but the puck bounced off defenseman Braydon Coburn and into the net for the clincher. Prior to that gold medal, the previous best for the United States was a silver medal in 1997.

There are currently 12 NHL regulars from that '04 U.S. WJC team and 19 have gone on to play at least five NHL games. It's simply a sign of the times, according to Parise.

"I think you've definitely seen a turnaround for USA Hockey," he said. "I think even my first year at World Juniors (in 2003) you sensed it. I think the U.S. is starting to become really competitive and even though Canada is rightfully always favored going in, people are starting to include the U.S. in those conversations and that's a great thing.

"USA Hockey has done a good job in Ann Arbor (Mich.) with the National Team and the colleges are developing players really well -- it's great to see."

NHL superstars who have participated in past WJC include Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Wayne Gretzky, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick.

There's no question players from this year's tournament will some day grace the NHL ice and reflect back on how it all began -- much like Parise.

The United States team had five 2010 Entry Draft eligible players on its roster, including goalie Jack Campbell, defenseman John Ramage and forwards Tyler Johnson, Luke Walker and Jason Zucker. The Canadians have one draft eligible skater in forward Taylor Hall, the leading scorer for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and possible first-overall choice in the 2010 Entry Draft.

Parise admitted being riveted to the television when he arrived home following New Jersey's 4-0 victory over the Dallas Stars at Prudential Center Tuesday.

Was he nervous? You bet.

"In that OT, I was nervous -- it was an unbelievable game," he said. "I couldn't believe when Canada tied it up -- I had gotten a text on my phone. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' Luckily, they had to resurface the ice so when I got home, I watched the overtime.

"It was definitely very cool to see the U.S. guys celebrating after the game," Parise said. "You just hope that we'll have that same opportunity in February (at the Winter Olympics)."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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