SASKATOON - Speed was the difference as the United States zipped to the gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.
American speed proved too much for a mostly slow-footed Canadian defence as they ended Canada's five-year reign as world junior hockey champions with a 6-5 overtime victory in the final on Tuesday night.
The game-winner 4:31 into overtime by defence ace John Carlson said it all. Canada had three men up ice after missing on a scoring chance, and the Americans turned it around in a wink into a counterattack that left Canada flat.
Goals in regulation time by Chris Kreider and Jerry D'Amigo came from lightning counterattacks off Canadian turnovers.
"We took advantage of their defence," said D'Amigo. "We knew they weren't that talented back there and we just used our speed and got around them and got a couple of goals."
Canada's defence was missing Travis Hamonic, part of their shutdown pair with Marco Scandella. Hamonic suffered a separated shoulder when he was hit from behind by Switzerland's Jeffrey Fuglister in the semifinals on Sunday.
That weakened a defence that already was not the most mobile that Canada has had in recent years and left the team vulnerable to quick-footed Americans from D'Amigo to Danny Kristo to Tyler Johnson.
It didn't help that their top blue-liner, Alex Pietrangelo, took a minor and misconduct for hitting from behind near the end of the first period that left him in the penalty box for 12 minutes.
"We missed Hamonic for sure," said coach Willie Desjardins. "He's a guy we went to quite a bit.
"But there were guys beat up on both teams."
Starting goaltender Jake Allen also had a rough night, which hurt since U.S. starter Mike Lee was even worse, allowing three goals on only seven shots before he was pulled in favour of Jack Campbell.
Allen wasn't terrible for two periods, but he didn't make the big saves when Canada was being outshot 23-9 through the first 25 minutes. Early in the third, D'Amigo scored to put the U.S. ahead, and just over a minute later he flipped a puck to the Canadian net that went off Allen's glove and lay in front of the net for Derek Stepan to jump on and score.
That brought in back-up Martin Jones, who can't be faulted on the overtime goal.
Canada had beaten the U.S. 5-4 in a shootout in round robin play last week in a game that followed a similar pattern: The Americans dominated most of regulation time and took a two-goal lead in the third period only to see Canada roar back to tie it.
There was a key difference this time because for the final, instead of going straight into overtime, the teams had a 17-minute intermission before two scheduled OT periods. Having time to regroup helped the Americans get over the shock of the Canadian comeback on two goals by Jordan Eberle, a deserving recipient of the tournament MVP award.
Canada's team was all about the attack from the start, and they did their share of scoring with 46 goals in six games. And they showed heart in getting the goals they needed late in the only two games in which they were given a real challenge - both against the U.S.
In the end, it may have hurt Canada that Switzerland upset Russia to reach the semifinals, giving Canada too easy of a path to the final. Another game to test Allen and the defence against a real threat might have had them in better form for the final.
But the Americans were full value for the win. They had to beat Finland in the quarter-finals and a strong Swedish team in the semis to get another crack at Canada.
And the second time around, they were the better team.