OTTAWA – After an unpromising start, Canada passed its toughest test of the world junior hockey championship Wednesday.
An overhyped and scattered Canadian team quickly fell behind 3-0 to the U.S., and trailed for the first time in the tournament, before pulling themselves together in a wild 7-4 victory.
John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals sparked the comeback with a pair of goals just 48 seconds apart in the first period. The possible No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft added an empty-net goal for the hat trick and his tournament-leading eighth goal.
Canada (4-0) secured the all-important bye to Saturday’s semifinal round by finishing first in Pool A, while the U.S. (3-1) has to get there via a quarter-final win over Slovakia on Friday.
Sweden also went undefeated in Pool B with a 5-0 win over Russia (3-1) and earned the semifinal bye.
Canada meets the quarter-final winner between Russia and the Czech Republic (2-2).
The Czechs thumped Kazakhstan 10-2 to finish third in Pool A and the Slovaks beat the Finland 3-2 in a shootout to secure a berth in the medal round.
In the seven years the tournament has awarded a bye to the pool winners, only Russia (1999) and Canada (2008) have come through a quarter-final and won the gold medal.
“We talked about that going into the third period,” Canadian captain Thomas Hickey said. “You play 20 minutes as hard as you can and you get 60 off. That’s going to be huge for us. The rest is important.”
Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats, Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Tyler Ennis of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion also scored for the defending champs. Belleville Bulls defenceman P.K. Subban added two assists
Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs recovered from a shaky first period with game-saving saves late in both the second and third periods. He stopped 22 of 26 shots for the win.
“I could have made a save or two for the guys early, but we showed the character we have, getting three quick ones to tie it up and it was pretty much a zero-zero game again,” Tokarski said. “For us to do that gives us a lot more confidence going into the next game.”
Boston College’s Kevin Shattenkirk and Jimmy Hayes, plus Seattle Thunderbirds forward Jim O’Brien and Vancouver Giants defenceman Jonathan Blum scored for the U.S. American goaltender Thomas McCollum of the Guelph Storm made 24 saves on 29 shots.
“We’ll easily come back from this,” said American forward Colin Wilson. “It’s a little disappointing, but we’ve got Slovakia in the quarter-finals. We’re definitely going to bounce back for that one.”
The Canada-U.S. matchup was the highly-anticipated game of the round robin by players from both countries and the fans at Scotiabank Place.
The 20,223 in attendance was another single-game tournament record and bested the previous mark set in Canada’s first game of the tournament.
Canada and the U.S. had fairly easy rides until Wednesday, outshooting their opposition 28-2 and 24-5 in their first three games respectively.
Their meeting lived up to its billing in a see-saw, albeit penalty-filled, battle. Canada’s tournament-leading power play saved the day for the host team as four of their first five goals came on a man advantage.
It started badly for Canada as the U.S. scored on their first shot of the game on Tokarski and were up 3-0 by 12:35.
“I think our team was over the edge a little bit early on,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t artistic but it was full of emotion.”
Consecutive minor penalties after the first goal by Chris DiDomenico, Cody Goloubef and Tyler Myers didn’t help because the Americans scored on a two-man advantage to make it 2-0.
Stefan Della Rovere was particularly on the edge, barking at the U.S. bench and getting slapped with a misconduct for a checking-from-behind penalty at the end of the first period.
The Barrie Colts forward didn’t play much after that. Quinn said he wasn’t trying to punish Della Rovere, but wanted to keep his team under control in a tight, emotional game.
Tavares kickstarted the comeback with a power-play goal at 14:55 of the first and added a beauty less than a minute later by deking a sprawling U.S. defenceman and wiring the puck upstairs.
“Johnny was unbelievable for us today,” said Hodgson. “Those two back-to-back goals were what got us back in that game and turned the momentum for us.”
Eberle added another power-play goal with 1:50 remaining in the first period. Canada’s Boychuk, the Americans’ Blum and then Hodgson scored power play goals in a back-and-forth second. Ennis padded Canada’s win by scoring after Tavares’s empty-net goal.
Tokarski redeemed himself for a mediocre first period by robbing Wilson on a backhand attempt with less than two minutes to go in the second period and stopping Wilson’s other attempt from close range late in the third.
“When you change goalies it’s when a kid is absolutely not in it or to change things with your team,” Quinn said. “The thought would have been to maybe change things for our team, but we were playing with emotion already.
“I didn’t want to ask them for more emotion. I wanted more control out of our team. I thought ‘let’s just ride it a bit longer’ and the young man pulled it together.”
U.S. coach Ron Rolston complained that second period started and the score clock didn’t, which he said gave Canada an unfair advantage on Boychuk’s goal 37 seconds in..
“We were yelling at the referee to either blow (the play) down or whatever they would do at that point,” he said. “They let the game play on and then the Canadian player left the penalty box early. It’s supposed to be a four-on-four and it ends up in the back of our net.”
An enormous Canadian flag that was introduced in the tournament opener for the home team circled the lower bowl prior to puck drop.
According to USA Hockey’s game notes, U.S. players who attended Christmas Eve church service in downtown Ottawa were asked by people in the congregation if they were going to finish second in the tournament.
Notes: Canada is 26-5-3 all-time versus the U.S. in world junior hockey championship history. . . . The U.S. has eight first-round NHL draft picks on its roster compared to Canada’s 10. . . . Eight U.S. players are out of the Canadian Hockey League, including five from the WHL.