SASKATOON – It was another classic New Year’s Eve battle between Canada and USA at the World U20 Championship. Canada earned bragging rights and an automatic berth in the semi-finals with a dramatic 5-4 shootout win.
United States – Canada 4-5 (1-1, 2-1, 1-2, 0-0, 0-1)
Jordan Eberle was the man of the hour, scoring two goals in the game and helping set the tone for a third-period, two-goal Canadian comeback. Eberle also scored in the shootout as the first participant. Canada has earned the automatic semi-final berth every year but one (2008) since the current format was introduced in 2003.
The U.S. will play Finland in the quarterfinals on January 2. Meanwhile the Canadians will be idle until the semi-final round begins on January 3, when they will take on the winner of the Russia-Switzerland quarter-final.
The atmosphere was electric in the sold-out arena, and the teams immediately responded, putting in a pair of rapid-fire goals within the first 3:40 of regulation. Canada drew first blood when Stefan Della-Rovere crashed the puck and himself into the U.S. net just 2:03 into action. Philip McRae took advantage of the first U.S. power play, tying the game at 1-1 and taking the crowd momentarily out of the equation. After the quick goals, things settled down and the teams wouldn't score again for more than 20 minutes.
The Americans played a strong second period, netting two shorthanded goals and coming dangerously close on several more chances. Canada was lucky to escape with only a 3-2 deficit at the end of 40 minutes. Jordan Schroeder gave the U.S. its first lead of the game when Tyler Johnson threaded a picture-perfect pass while shorthanded 7:08 into the period. Jordan Eberle gave the Canadians one of the few positive moments of the period when he erased the lead four minutes later, tying the game at two.
Next, the U.S. missed two huge chances to reclaim the lead when Chris Kreider shot wide on a penalty shot mid-period. A few shifts later, Kyle Palmieri missed on a clear-cut breakaway when he also shot wide.
The American fortunes started to change when Tyler Johnson scored another shorthanded goal, knocking in a pass from Jerry D'Amigo after he caught two Canadian defencemen flat-footed deep in the zone for a goal with 11 seconds left in the period.
The Americans picked up right where they left off to open the second period, opening up a two-goal lead when Danny Kristo silenced the crowd 1:01 in. Eberle again had the answer for Canada, this time with a tip-in that came mid-period to cut the American lead to 4-3.
That goal brought both the Canadian players and the fans to life as the energy level in the arena tripled. Things looked bleak for Canada when Eberle was called for high-sticking late in the third period, but the Canadians found a little shorthanded magic of their own when Alex Pietrangelo put in the top-shelf game-tying goal. The USA had luck on its side when Canada put in the apparent game-winner with 2:10 left in the game, which was disallowed because of a player in the crease.
The 4-4 tie endured through a scoreless overtime, setting up the shootout finale. Brandon Kozun put in the ultimate game-winner for Canada as five of the six shooters scored in the shootout. Eberle and Nazem Kadri were the other shootout goal scorers for the Canadians.