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THN at the World Junior Championship: Focused U.S. spoils Canada's party

Members of Team USA celebrate after defeating Team Canada 6-5 in overtime at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Members of Team USA celebrate after defeating Team Canada 6-5 in overtime at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

SASKATOON – It had to go to overtime. And fittingly, the winner came on a rush, U.S. defenseman John Carlson ending the gold medal game at 4:21 of the extra frame with a wrist shot to the blocker side of Canadian goaltender Martin Jones for a 6-5 American win.

In a game that featured all four goaltenders and an amazing back-and-forth between the heated rivals, the Americans bested the home team for the nation’s first world junior gold since they beat Canada back in 2004.

Team USA began the game picking on starting goaltender Jake Allen’s glove-side shoulder, while Canada chased U.S. keeper Mike Lee with three goals on seven shots.

Once again, Team USA got a big game from right winger Jerry D’Amigo, who not only scored to break a 3-3 tie, but also dove to stop fellow future Toronto Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri’s chance to end the game in regulation with just seconds remaining in the third period.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” D’Amigo said. “I’m kind of speechless right now.”

The Americans were very disciplined early and didn’t take a penalty until seven minutes into the second period. All credit goes to coach Dean Blais, who made it his mission to focus and control his troops throughout the tourney.

“Right from the camp in Grand Forks (N.D.) he got us focused right away,” said center Ryan Bourque. “We had a goal in sight and us 22 guys weren’t going to stop until we achieved that goal.”

For Blais, it was a matter of having the right personnel, a team devoid of the hubris that doomed last year’s squad against Canada.

“I didn’t want a bunch of fancy Dans,” Blais said. “We took guys with character.”

Along with D’Amigo and Carlson, the U.S. got strong contributions from captain Derek Stepan and Carlson’s blueline partner John Ramage.

For Canada, goals came from some of the top junior players from across the nation: Taylor Hall of the Ontario League, Luke Adam from the Quebec League and Jordan Eberle of the Western League.

Once again Eberle, a Saskatchewan native, was a king for Canada. Down 5-3 with less than three minutes to play in the third, Eberle gave Canada its Rocky Balboa moment, scoring twice on replacement goalie Jack Campbell in just over a minute.

But the rally only tied the game and for the Americans, going to overtime was not an issue in their dressing room.

“We just had to stay focused,” D’Amigo said. “We played a great game throughout the whole 60 minutes and we just had to get back to basics of how we were beating them before.”

Added left winger Chris Kreider: “We were locked in. Obviously we were a little beat up…I wouldn’t say depressed, but a little down because we gave up two late, thought we had it – but we were definitely ready to go.”

In the bronze medal game, the first period statistics told the whole story: Five goals for Sweden, five shots on net for Switzerland. The end result was a wild 11-4 win for the Tre Kronor, earning them the tourney’s bronze medal.

“We just wanted to win,” said defenseman David Rundblad, “win our last game of the tournament. We wanted to skate a lot and play the puck often. I think we played a really good game.”

Feel-good story and Swiss goaltender Benjamin Conz didn’t have his usual rebound control on the afternoon, directly resulting in the first two goals of the game for Sweden, who charged the zone early and often.

“We really wanted to take the puck and dominate the game,” said left winger Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. “We knew we were the better team, so we really wanted to execute and I think we did that.”

The floodgates opened late in the period and by the time the first buzzer had sounded, Ottawa pick Andre Petersson had two goals (he would end with a hat trick) and the game was out of hand.

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This all happened despite the absence of a pair of Sweden’s top players. Captain Marcus Johansson was in the stands with an undisclosed injury, while defenseman Tim Erixon also watched from the media seats. According to a Swedish reporter, Erixon took a hard hit in the game against Austria and had been playing hurt ever since.

Another top defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, left the game late in the second when Switzerland’s Tristan Scherwey jumped into the Phoenix Coyotes prospect, receiving a charging penalty in the process.

With Johansson out, center Anton Lander wore the ‘C’ for Sweden. Ironically, it was the second major leadership change in two days at the tourney. Kirill Petrov wore the ‘C’ in Russia’s loss to Finland Monday and, according to Russian reporters, previous captain Nikita Filatov was stripped of his duties after criticizing the organization (i.e. coaching) of the team in a Russian media scrum.

Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom was uncharacteristically mortal in the second period, giving up four goals to the Swiss, but his mates just had too much offense to fail on the night.

With the game essentially over after 20 minutes, focus was understandably difficult for the Swedes.

“It’s pretty hard, but we’ve done it before,” Paajarvi-Svensson said. “You take the small details and focus on the small things and it should work out for you.”

It certainly did on this evening.

US mines gold in OT at WJC
It took overtime for Team USA to dethrone the five-time reigning champions at the WJC in Saskatoon. Defenseman John Carlson's goal early in the extra frame led the U.S. to an exhilarating 6-5 victory over Team Canada in the gold medal game.

In the bronze medal game the Swedes thumped the underdog Swiss 11-4. After capturing silver in 2008 and 2009, Sweden took a small step backwards when they were forced to play for bronze after losing to the eventual gold medalists in the semifinal. Sweden jumped out to a five-goal lead in the first period and never looked back, cruising to the easy victory over Switzerland.

REPORTER: Ryan Kennedy | 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 Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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