BUFFALO – Well that ended quickly. Just as it looked as though Team USA would put together a string of world junior triumphs, starting with last year’s gold, the Americans fell apart against their top rival. And the players themselves will tell you they got outfoxed by their northern cousins.
“It’s a well-coached team they have over there,” said Team USA’s Emerson Etem. “Our preparation was a little lackadaisical. We thought having the rest of going right to the semis would help and I think we took it for granted.”
When Team USA triumphed over Canada in last year’s gold medal game, they did so with a canny coach behind the bench in disciplinarian Dean Blais. He wasn’t back this year, replaced by Yale’s Keith Allain, and whatever Allain’s plan was against Canada, it didn’t work.
“We came out a little flat,” said defenseman Nick Leddy, who admitted the Canadians looked like they wanted the win more early in the game.
Canada stomped the U.S. 4-1 en route to a berth in the gold medal game and would have run up the score had goaltender Jack Campbell not saved the Americans’ dignity with his excellent play in what was a surprisingly pro-Canadian crowd in Buffalo.
“Right away the fans were in it,” Etem said. “And right from that first draw, every draw they were harder than us, every battle along the boards they were harder than us.”
When the U.S. was stunning Canada in Saskatoon, they did so by matching Canada’s physicality and surpassing the Canucks in team speed. Neither of those attributes were apparent in Buffalo. Team defense was particularly horrid in the semifinal and didn’t improve from the first period to the second. Midway through the game, there was a hang-dog vibe coming off the Americans and the team even made an apologetic gesture to Campbell at the end of the second by skating over to the besieged netminder en masse, as if to say “sorry, bud.”
Overall, Team USA played dumb early and never recovered. Chris Kreider was denied a great scoring chance on a delayed penalty when a fellow skater went offside. Bad pinches and poor positioning led to the first two Canadian goals.
“It’s disappointing for sure,” Allain said. “Individually our guys were working hard, but collectively our team game wasn’t working.”
And let’s not sell Canada short here. Brayden Schenn drew a penalty on Patrick Wey when the U.S. defender couldn’t handle the Canadian’s speed and power on the rush. The call put Canada on a 5-on-3 power play and that’s when Ryan Johansen deposited a Ryan Ellis rebound behind Campbell for goal No. 3.
“We wanted to play Canadian hockey,” said Quinton Howden, who notched the second goal of the game off a lovely Brett Connolly feed (and aided by a bad American pinch that led to the odd-man rush). “Make their ‘D’ turn, play physical…We wanted to come out with a bang to show we wanted it more.”
And it certainly looked that way. Even a late Chris Brown power play goal, which broke Mark Visentin’s shutout bid, could not turn the momentum. This was Canadian domination in a tournament that had seen little of that in the past week.
“We played like 22 brothers out there,” Visentin said.
With the nation’s other big rival, Russia, on deck with gold at stake, it will be heartening for Canadian fans to see their boys once again playing like the champs they have often been at this tournament.
Canada looks to build off stellar performance in semifinal and capture gold at world juniors
REPORTER: Ken Campbell | PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday.
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