It marks the first time the two North American powers have played each other so late in the World Championship with the gold medal on the line since 1950. That year, Canada beat the U.S. 5-0 in the medal round robin and won gold, relegating the Americans to silver. But just ten days ago the U.S. handed Canada its worst World Championship loss ever between the two nations, 5-1, so there are major bragging rights on the line in 48 hours' time.
"It's going to be a fun game," said Canadian goalie Darcy Kuemper, who was pulled in that 23 May loss after allowing four goals on 17 shots. "It's a good rivalry, and there's going to be a lot on the line. We're playing a lot better hockey now, so we're going to go out and play our game and have some fun."
ROC goes home finishing in fifth place, not what they expected coming into the tournament. "One goal, we scored only one goal," lamented captain Anton Slepyshev. "We had to play more offensive, try to go to the net more. It’s tough to win when you score only one goal. It’s a disappointment. We had big plans for this tournament. We came here thinking about winning. We had a good team, good enough to do that. Today’s game, the guys gave everything and it wasn’t enough. One goal is very little, but the guys battled to the end."
"Before the game we talked about playing active, fast, aggressive hockey," said ROC head coach Valeri Bragin. "We tried and at times we managed it, but other times not. You get games like that, where things don’t work out. The big thing was that the opposition played defensively, almost without errors. We couldn’t break down that defense, then in overtime we allowed the goal. Canadians are Canadians--they never bring a bad team."
"He's been so steady for us all tournament, leading the way, especially since Millsy [Colin Miller] got injured and had to leave," captain Adam Henrique said of Stecher. "He's been one of the guys we've leaned on to lead the way. It's great to see his skill come out on that goal. It was fun to watch."
The trio of Mangiapane-Connor Brown-Henrique has now accounted for 12 of Canada's 21 goals and has been dynamite since Mangiapane left quarantine and was able to join the team for Canada's fourth game of the preliminary round.
"With 'Mang' coming in, he allowed us to take our creativity to the next level," Henrique explained. "He and Brown think along the same lines, and I just try to complement those guys with my play. Their skill level is high end. It makes it easier for me. I try to do the grind work and be in the right spots and let them do their thing. The chemistry was there right away. It certainly has been fun playing with those guys."
It was a goaltender's duel between Kuemper, who got off to a shaky start in Riga and has been playing better every game, and Sergei Bobrovski, who was playing his first game after arriving from the NHL and serving his quarantine period.
"We knew we were going to have to play a tight, stingy game," said Henrique. "They have a lot of skill and can create a lot of offence. But we knew if we could do a good job in front of Darcy and we could limit their opportunities and take advantage when we can we knew we could win."
But given ROC had scored more goals than any other at the tournament, 28, and had won six of seven games, ROC was the prohibitive favourite against a Canadian team that lost its first three games and qualified for the playoffs through a fortuitous series of events.
"Any time we can put on the Canadian jersey, it's such an honour," Kuemper explained. "It's such a tradition there, such a history of success. You want to represent your country as best you can. Even if we felt like we were a bit of an underdog, we wanted to leave it all out there play the Canadian way and give ourselves a chance to win."
Canada had tied the game at 5:03 of the third on the power play when Brown set up Henrique for a quick shot at the top of the crease that beat Bobrovski on the short side.
Canada had a great chance to go ahead when it got another power play a few minutes later, but the ROC penalty killers were letter perfect. The rest of the period produced cautious hockey, anxious moments, and some good scoring chances both ways, but the two goalies were equal to whatever the skaters managed to throw at them.
ROC opened the scoring at 14:32 of the second off a defensive lapse by Canada. Vladislav Kamenev spotted defenceman Dmitri Orlov coming down the back side, but Orlov’s deke was stopped by Kuemper’s quick right pad. But the goalie was down and out and Orlov swatted the puck in front where Yevgeni Timkin backhanded the puck into the open net. In truth, the shot went off the stick of Nicolas Beaudin and behind the arm of Jacob Bernard-Docker, who was trying to play goal with Kuemper down.
Canada had some good pressure after that but didn’t test Bobrovski with any shots from dangerous places.
The first 20 minutes was fast and furious, at one point going eight minutes without a whistle. Teams went end to end and both had significant puck possession in either end, but the best two scoring chances didn’t even register as shots on net, which favoured ROC, 8-6
Mangiapane made a great play to get to a puck in the ROC end and slide a quick pass to Henrique, but his quick shot alone in front went wide to the stick side.
Late in the period ROC got the game’s first power play, allowing Nikita Nesterov a chance coming in on goal from the left. He, too, wired a shot wide to the far side. Moments later, a quick play in front by Mikhail Grigorenko saw Kuemper bobble the puck, but it stayed out.