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U.S. golden in previous World Juniors trip to Finland

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- The United States won gold at the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship, the last time Finland hosted the tournament.

The core of that team was Patrick O'Sullivan, Zach Parise, Patrick Eaves, Matt Carle, Ryan Kesler and captain Mark Stuart. The U.S. had won gold two years earlier at the World Under-18 Championship in Slovakia, and it was favored to have similar success against the top junior-aged players in the world.

In the championship game against Canada, a team comprised of Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Dion Phaneuf, the United States won 4-3 to capture its first gold medal at the tournament.

The U.S. hopes a return to Helsinki for the 2016 WJC will offer similar results.

"It was obviously a huge breakthrough to win the tournament, but I think more importantly was how our team played," said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations. "We were an incredibly competitive group that played really hard, but played the kind of hockey you enjoy watching. There was a lot of shot blocking, physical play and a balanced scoring attack.

"Brett Sterling and Brady Murray played a lot early on, and then Drew Stafford and David Booth played more when it became the big, strong game, so we kind of had two different looks if you will."

Parise, whose 11 points led the 2004 WJC, joined U.S. goaltender Al Montoya on the tournament all-star team and took home the awards for best forward and tournament MVP.

"Zach, Mark Stuart and, in the end, Ryan Kesler stood out down the stretch," Johannson said. "I remember Kesler taking a really bad stick to the eye during the tournament, and we didn't know if we'd lose him or not. But he came back from that and was a huge factor."

The United States rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Canada. O'Sullivan and Kesler scored goals early in the third period, then O'Sullivan scored his second of the game with 5:12 remaining to break a 3-3 tie. Canada finished with the silver medal and the host country, Finland, won the bronze medal.

"I know a little bit about World Junior history but didn't know the last time in Finland the United States won, so that is kind of important going back there," 2016 U.S. National Junior Team coach Ron Wilson said. "We have a little bit of a relationship with the Finns, but from playing in all these camps that's really interesting to know. We have a history in Helsinki, so we have to continue to improve as a group and be ready. We're going there as maybe co-favorites, so we have to really produce."

Johannson said that although the gold-medal game against Canada was certainly memorable, he recalls the 2-1 semifinal round victory against Finland as one of the most physical World Junior games he ever witnessed.

"We saw a lot of Finland during that time frame throughout development camps, and I remember players knocking heads really good out there," Johannson said. "I think it was a little bit of a carryover, but also they were strong, a pretty good-sized team and we played each other quite a bit. I think it just led to that much more animosity and it was just a man's game."

The gold-medal triumph at the 2004 WJC proved to be a landmark achievement and feather in the cap for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, which was started in 1996.

"It just brought another era of players into USA Hockey that both were skilled and talented enough to win a championship and have the intangibles needed to win the championship," Johannson said. "That was a big building block that carried into this program for a lot of the players."

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