-- Canada delivered its challenge early in Monday's semifinal of the 2011 World Junior Championship. Unfortunately for the Americans, they never mustered a response until it was too late.
"They out-worked us," Team USA captain John Ramage
said. "There's not an easier way to say it. They out-skated us, they out-worked us. We were supposed to use our speed and they skated over us."
They did so by physically intimidating a USA team that wasn't supposed to be intimidated anymore.
Just 100 seconds into the contest at HSBC Arena, towering Canadian defenseman Erik Gudbranson
delivered a thunderclap of a hit on Jerry D'Amigo
, the opening volley in Canada's scorched-ice policy as they tried to avenge last year's gold-medal loss to these same Americans in last year's gold-medal game of the World Junior Championships.
Instead of holding ground in the face of the onslaught, the Americans appeared to hesitate, leading to a game plagued by indecision, poor passing, a lack of speed through the neutral zone and chaos in the defensive zone.
"You could see them backing away some times, said Canada forward Quinton Howden
, one of the big hitters in the game."We were chipping the puck, making their 'D' turns and getting in there physical. We knew what we had to do. Our coaching staff did a great job studying them and getting us ready and we did just that."
The result, not surprisingly, was a 4-1 loss that ended Team USA's chance to defend the gold medal it claimed in such stunning fashion last year in Saskatoon.
"It's tough to admit that they competed harder than us," American forward Nick Bugstad said. "It's just a tough pill to swallow."
Now, Canada will try to finish of its march of redemption by beating Russia in Wednesday's gold-medal game. The Americans, meanwhile, will go for the consolation prize; the bronze medal.
"Quite frankly, I don't think with the way we played tonight that we deserved to win," American coach Keith Allain said. "That's the thing about hockey; you usually get what you deserve."
If that is so, the Americans certainly deserve to play in the less-fancied bronze-medal game against a Sweden team that lost to Russia in a shootout earlier on Monday.
By the Americans' own admission, they did little right from before the first faceoff to the final horn.
"We didn't get the start we wanted to and we just couldn't find our groove out there tonight," American forward Jeremy Morin
said. "We couldn't find that break or chip to get us going."
The Americans believed if they could get the puck in deep and get their forecheck going they would have been alright. Instead they were picked off repeatedly in the neutral zone as they tried to gain the Canadian blue line.
They believed if they could get shots on untested goalie Mark Visentin
they could rattle him. So, they managed all of five shots in the first period, just two in the first 10 minutes.
"We didn't get enough shots," Morin said. "Our game plan was to get as many pucks on net and crash and bang and we didn't execute."
Finally, they wanted to limit the amount of power plays and odd-man rushes that they allowed a supremely talented Team Canada.
So, what happened?
Canada's Curtis Hamilton
started the onslaught, just 2:38 into the game, when he was left all alone on to the right of American goalie Jack Campbell
and allowed copious amounts of time unchecked in order to pick his spot.
"They out-worked us. There's not an easier way to say it. They out-skated us, they out-worked us. We were supposed to use our speed and they skated over us."
-- USA Captain John Ramage
Howden scored Canada's second goal -- the eventual game-winner, by redirecting a Brett Connolly
pass on a 2-on-1 that was started when Chris Brown
made a late forecheck into the Canadian zone, allowing Gudbranson to spring Connolly was a pass up the wall.
Canada's third goal, by Ryan Johansen
, came on a 5-on-3 penalty after Charlie Coyle
and Patrick Wey
took penalties just 25 seconds apart.
Zach Kassian ended the carnage with a breakaway goal after Calvin de Haan
shredded the American defense with a perfect pass through the neutral zone.
Campbell allowed four goals, but he was not the primary culprit on any of them because of the team's breakdowns in the defensive zone. Campbell made 37 saves and was named Team USA's man of the match.
"Jack was the one player on our team tonight that played to his potential," Allain said, bluntly.
Perhaps a harsh assessment; but one that the players knew to be true after their gold-medal hopes for 2011 were cruelly and completely dashed Monday night by a far superior Canadian side.
"I don't think we came out on fire," said Brown, who scored Team USA's consolation goal with just 10:23 left in the game. "I think that they jumped on us early and we needed to prepare better and play a lot better than we did. They showed up to play and they won and now they are playing for a championship."