SCOTIABANK PLACE – Hockey just doesn’t get any better than it did on New Year’s Eve when Canada and the United States faced off with first place in Group A and an automatic berth to the semi-finals on the line.
Canada – United States 7-4 (3-3, 2-1, 2-0)
Canada earned the bye, and nearly as importantly, the bragging rights for North America with a breath-taking 7-4 win that left the sell-out crowd of 20,223 (a new World Junior single-game record) in awe. The game exceeded all expectations as the teams played a passion-filled, physical, high-scoring, fast-paced extravaganza that gave the fans at this year’s World Junior Championship something to truly get excited about.
"We didn't really get tested before, and it was great to get tested in this game," said Canada's Jordan Eberle. "We were down three goals and came right back. Even when we went back and forth for a while, we got stronger as the game went on."
On January 3, Canada will face either Russia or the Czechs in the late semi-final (7:30 pm) at Scotiabank Place.
Canada got four of its five goals on the power play as emotions ran high on both sides of the ice. John Tavares was again a leading force for the Canadians with three goals in the win, including one of the two empty-netters in the last minutes of action. Tavares is now tied with Eric Lindros and Jeff Carter as the all-time leading goal-scorer (12) in Team Canada history.
In addition, Tavares (8-4-12) and Cody Hodgson (3-9-12) now share the tournament scoring lead.
The loss gives the Americans second place in Group A. They will take on Slovakia, the third-place team from Group B, in the early quarterfinal on January 2 at 3:30 pm.
"We started the game really strongly with the 3-0 lead, and lost momentum as it went on," said U.S. head coach Ron Rolston. "We learned a lesson from this game, and now we just have to focus on our next game in two days."
It was a wild ride throughout the game, but most notably in the first period, when the U.S. jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first half, only to see the advantage erased in less than four minutes.
American Kevin Shattenkirk silenced the extremely pro-Canada crowd with a shot from the top of the face-off circle at 3:49. Jimmy Hayes punched in a one-timer at 7:15 after getting a perfect feed from behind the net on a five-on three to double the lead. Just over five minutes later, Jim O’Brian scored his first goal of the championship to stun the Canadian crowd.
But Tavares, who has been the anchor of the Canadian offence, was there to restore calm to his bench with a pair of goals coming less than one minute apart. Hodgson fed Tavares through the crease for the first Canada goal.
Tavares created his own magic, intercepting the puck in the neutral zone and stickhandling his way past the American defence before roofing it to make it 3-2. Eberle completed the first period comeback when he jammed the puck in for the tying goal with 1:50 left before the buzzer.
"It was unbelievable," Team Canada defenceman Ryan Ellis told TSN. "After that first period, we were jumping up and down in the dressing room and going nuts. We had to settle down. There were so many momentum changes and so many emotions, but it was a fun game to play and a fun game to watch."
Canada came out with momentum in the second period and immediately took its first lead of the game when Chris di Domenico took advantage of an odd rebound bounce 37 seconds in action. But the Americans evened the score again, as Jonathon Blum scored on a power-play to make it 4-4.
Hodgson, who hit a post in the first period, restored Canada’s lead 6:56 into the second period. Canadian goalie Dustin Toharski kept the Americans from tying the game with an amazing save from point blank range on Colin Wilson at the end of the period, allowing the Canadians to go into the second intermission with a one-goal pad.
The Canadians staved off any hopes of an American comeback in the final period. Canada put heavy pressure on the American net and brought the final to 7-4 with two empty netters by Tavares and Tyler Ennis in the final minute. The crowd sang “O Canada” with pure ecstasy.
"The intensity of this game was very high," said Canadian coach Pat Quinn. "Even during warmups, I heard the players were showing a lot of emotion, and both teams were very ready to play tonight."
The tournament is idle tomorrow before resuming on January 2 with the relegation round and two quarterfinal games. Russia will take on the Czech Republic in the other quarterfinal.