EDMONTON – Goalie Scott Wedgewood stopped 30 of 32 shots and Canada beat the United States 3-2 before a packed house of 16,647 at the Rexall Centre tonight.
Wedgewood was sensational in the final two periods when Canada tried to sit on the lead. The offence was led by Mark Stone who had a goal and assist in a three-goal first period.
"The game was a good experience for us," Wedgewood said. "We wanted to learn from it and take the experience to the medal round. We knew they’d bring their best effort and we wanted to bring ours. We started the way we wanted."
Canada is now set to face an unknown opponent in the semi-finals on January 3 at 7.00 pm in Calgary. The U.S. will begin its relegation round play the same day against Latvia at 11.00 am.
At game's end, the players acknowledged the crowd for their support in Edmonton as they head off to Calgary for the medal round, and the crowd responded in kind by chanting, "We want gold! We want gold!"
Canada’s play in the first period was overwhelming for the Americans who created precious few scoring chances and were swarmed every time they had the puck. Canada was more tenacious and more effective with and without the puck.
Canada got the opening goal on the power play drawn by Brendan Gallagher. As U.S. goalie Jack Campbell froze the puck, Gallagher bumped the goalie ever so slightly, not enough to be a penalty, but noticeable enough that Jared Tinordi retaliated with an obvious roughing call.
On the ensuing man advantage, Jonathan Huberdeau made a great pass from the corner to Mark Stone in the slot, and Stone's one-timer beat Campbell cleanly to the stick side at 5:39 for a 1-0 Canada lead. It was Stone’s tournament-best seventh goal.
Stone was instrumental in creating the second goal five minutes later. His determined cycling in the American end was nothing short of sensational, and when he squirmed through, he fired a pass to captain Jaden Schwartz who beat Campbell from the top of the crease with a quick shot.
"Our mindset is to get on the teams early," Stone said. "We want to come out for quick starts. Coming out quick is something we want to do. Our first shifts have been excellent going forward. If you look at Freddie Hamilton’s line, they’re getting on the body early and it really energizes our bench."
Brett Connolly made it 3-0 after another five minutes. He made a great play at the Canadian blueline by getting the puck and freezing defenceman Stephen Johns who pinched unwisely. Connolly roared down the ice on a two-on-one but looked to shoot the whole way, beating Campbell to the far side again.
Canada came out to start the second looking like a different team. The first time the puck went inside the U.S. end, one forward went halfway in and the rest of the team formed a defensive formation completely opposite to the free-wheeling, entertaining, and aggressive style that had given the team its three-goal lead in the opening period.
The result was nearly disastrous and Wedgewood was called upon to make some key saves as Canada simply sat on the lead. Then, late in the period, Emerson Etem drew only a two-minute minor for a flagrant foul, sliding into Wedgewood as the goalie came out to play the puck and making no attempt to get the puck himself. Wedgewood flipped high in the air but recovered after a couple of minutes with the trainer.
The penalty gave Canada a two-man advantage, but after one wide shot, and Kyle Rau coming out of the box, he ended up with a breakaway. He fired high and wide, though, but Canada failed to up the score and the Americans left the ice with a little bit of hope still trailing only 3-0.
The third started with another great chance for the Americans when they had a two-man advantage for 70 seconds but failed to generate many quality shots. These scares got Canada back in forecheck mode for a brief period and it took the play to the U.S. again, maintaining possession and cycling effectively in the American end.
Charlie Coyle got the American goal halfway through the period when he ripped a shot to the top corner over Wedgewood's glove. Jason Zucker added a late goal from behind the net oand off Wedgewood's skate to make it close, but they couldn't tie the game with Campbell on the bench for most of the final 1:50.
"I’m more than happy [with our performance] with the exception of not winning the game," captain Zucker said. "We played outstanding. In the first period we gave too many turnovers, and they capitalized. They’re a great team. Credit to them. We came back in the second and third period and had a good chance to tie it up. That shows the character in our locker room. I’m more than proud in my team."