OTTAWA - At the IIHF World Junior Championship, much like in international hockey overall, the rivalry between the two North American powers has greatly intensified in recent years.
Thatís why hockey fans have been looking forward to the New Yearís Eve clash between Canada and the United States at Scotiabank Place with such anticipation.
Up until the late 1990ís, things were extremely one-sided in Canadaís favour, as the motherland of hockey regularly won World Junior gold medals. The Americans only had two bronze medals to their credit (1986 and 1992), and couldnít find their way to the top of the podium despite boasting the likes of Jeremy Roenick, Mike Modano, and Keith Tkachuk at various times.
But the sheer amount of NHL-ready talent the U.S. produces has made it a perennial contender, at least on paper, at this tournament in the new millennium. The American gold medal drought finally ended in 2004.
Still, Canada boasts a commanding overall lead versus the Americans with 25 wins, five losses, and three ties since 1977. Last year, Canada ousted the U.S. 4-1 in the semi-finals.
Hereís IIHF.comís selection of the five biggest Canada-U.S. World Junior games.
1) USA Wins First Gold: 2004
This was also the last time Canada lost a game to the Americans. The gold medal showdown in Helsinki, Finland was decided on a tragic blunder by Canadian goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. After the Mike Eaves-coached U.S. squad had rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game early in the third period, Fleury attempted to clear away the puck but bounced it off his own defenceman, Braydon Coburn, and into the Canadian net with just over five minutes to go. The goal was credited to Patrick OíSullivan. The Americans hung on for a 4-3 win that made history.
2) Semifinal Shootout Showdown: 2007
This January 3 clash in Leksand, Sweden had one of the most exciting conclusions of any international game ever, at any level. After the USAís Taylor Chorney and Canadaís Luc Bourdon exchanged goals in regulation time, goaltender Carey Price kept the Canadians alive during a 10-minute overtime, making 12 saves and shining during a penalty kill with Kristopher Letang in the box.
Price truly secured his place in Canadian hockey history during the seven-round shootout that followed, stoning Peter Mueller on the deciding shot. Meanwhile, Jonathan Toews scored an incredible three times in the game-winning shots competition, and Canada was off to the gold medal game against Russia, where it prevailed two days later by a 4-2 count.
3) Devereaux and Denis Delight Canadians: 1997
What a way to cap off Canadaís historic run of five straight gold medals. On January 4 in Geneva, Boyd Devereaux scored the winner for head coach Mike Babcockís team midway through the second period, and Marc Denis recorded the 2-0 shutout in goal with 23 saves. The Americans could take some solace, however, in gaining their first-ever World Junior silver medal.
4) A New Yearís Eve to Remember: 2006
The last time these two nations faced off on New Yearís Eve in round-robin play, there was an electric atmosphere with 16,083 fans at Vancouverís Pacific Coliseum. The Americans brought a roster dripping with skill (see Phil Kessel, Erik Johnson, Robbie Schremp, Peter Mueller) and were expected to challenge for gold, while Canadaís identity accentuated hard work and defence (see Dustin Boyd, Marc Staal, Tom Pyatt) more than the overwhelmingly skilled 2005 entry that owned Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The U.S. battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, and, seeking a needed victory to top the Preliminary Round group, pulled their goalie at the end, enabling Kyle Chipchura to score the winner into an empty net. The evening, though, was most remembered for the notorious play that followed that goal. Jack Johnson appeared to lay a controversial elbow on Canadian agitator Steve Downie, which was heavily embellished by the latter. Johnson was Public Enemy Number One for Canadian fans for the rest of the tournament. Canada went on to win gold over Russia, while the Americans settled for fourth.
5) Craig Saves the Day: 1991
With goals from Ted Drury, Keith Tkachuk, Jim Storm, and Doug Weight, the U.S. had hopes of a rare win over the host Canadians in this round-robin tournament. But with Canada trailing by a goal with under five minutes to play, Eric Lindros set up Mike Craig for the equalizer. Since Canada later dropped a 6-5 decision to Czechoslovakia, the point secured turned out to be critical in the teamís march toward a second straight gold medal. Canadaís final game was a clinching 3-2 win over the Soviets in Saskatoon, and John Slaney scored the big goal on a point shot.