BUFFALO – Canada has a place in the gold medal game on Wednesday night after defeating the United States 4-1 at HSBC Arena before a largely Canadian crowd. Never before have both bye teams been eliminated in the semi-finals, and now the Canadians will play great rivals Russia for gold. They last met in 2007, the third of three straight finals between the teams. Canada will now appear in its tenth consecutive gold medal game.
"This was big time payback for us for last year and the biggest win of my career," said goalie Mark Visentin, referring to last year's overtime loss in the final game, 6-5, to the Americans.
Said American goalie Jack Campbell: "I think nobody in the locker room can go around and say he played his best, including myself. I never went through this before. We were shot down by a great Canadian team, and it's really hitting me."
"Our transition game was very fast. We came up early. We played well in the defensive zone, and we kept up the pace. We wanted to do a statement," said Marcus Foligno.
Curtis Hamilton, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen, and Zack Kassian scored for Canada while Chris Brown got the only U.S. goal midway through the final period to break Visentin's shutout.
The Americans now have to compose themselves for a bronze medal game earlier on Wednesday. "Canada came out and played their game," Campbell said. "In the locker room it’s pretty disappointing right now. We have to regroup and play a strong Swedish team in two days. Our goal was the gold medal, so we fell short this year."
Canada got off to its best start of the tournament, attacking hard, hitting, and getting the first goal. That came as a result of a massive defensive breakdown by the Americans just inside their own blue line. Three players went after the puck carrier, Cody Eakin, who spotted Curtis Hamilton wide open in front of Jack Campbell’s goal. Eakin made a perfect pass to him, and Hamilton deked the goalie down and banged in his own rebound at 2:38 to send the large Canadian contingent in the crowd into a frenzy.
The Canadians rolled on, delivering a series of thundering hits, but more impressively they moved with incredible ease and speed out of their own zone, and it was this skill that created their second goal thanks to this speed which exposed the vulnerability of the American defence.
Canada gained a two-on-one off the rush, Brett Connolly streaking down the right side as Quinton Howden raced to the net. Connolly slipped a beautiful pass ahead to his teammate, who redirected the puck to the far side past Campbell at 13:54 for a 2-0 lead.
That’s how the period ended, and it was up to U.S. coach Keith Allain to try to calm his overwhelmed and rattled troops. The referees, meanwhile, did a masterful job – as did the players – in controlling the tempo and emotions. Not a penalty was called, and none was especially merited in the first 20 minutes.
The Americans did get the first power play early in the second, and goalie Visentin was called upon to make a solid save off Nick Bjugstad in the slot. It was, if nothing else, a great confidence-builder. The rest of the penalty kill went perfectly, and immediately after Canada drew two minors to gain a five-on-three for 1:36.
Canada took full advantage. Ryan Ellis ripped a point shot that Campbell couldn’t control, and Ryan Johansen knocked in the rebound at 5:59 to make it a convincing 3-0 lead, but with 36 minutes left in the game, the work was by no means done, and the Americans had plenty of time.
The Americans had their best shifts in the last five minutes of the second, drawing a penalty and finally getting some pressure on the Canadian defence. But the score remained 3-0 after two periods thanks to Visentin, who got his body on a nice deflection in front by Simon Despres.
Canada got that crucial fourth goal to drive their point home when Zack Kassian scored on a breakaway at 6:02 of the final period. But Chris Brown broke the spell Visentin had cast on the Americans just three minutes later when he whipped a shot over the goalie's glove on the power play at 9:37. That was as close as the U.S. came.
Dylan Olsen and Ryan Ellis both celebrated 20th birthday's today, and what a gift they gave each other. "It’s probably one of the best birthday gifts ever," said Olsen. "Winning the gold medal would be even sweeter."
"We played a great team game," said Visentin. "We were like 22 brothers out there. We forced everything on them tonight. But we have the toughest game before us."
That would be against Russia. For gold. Again. This is what hockey is all about.