Just prior to last night’s World Junior match-up between the U.S. and Canada, another semifinal game was taking place all the way up in Winnipeg. The U.S. National Under-17 Team took on Canada-Pacific for the chance to play Canada-Ontario in the championship game at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Boy, was this a wild one.
After falling behind, 1-0, in the early goings of the game, Team USA had a burst of four goals in a 13 minute span in the first period. The U.S. grabbed one more in the second, before Pacific came back with a pair. Two more goals from the Canadian regional squad in the third and it was a tie hockey game. However, Nicolas Kerdiles was able to find the net at 7:24 of the extra frame to allow the U.S. to escape with a 6-5 win.
What makes this so weird is that almost the exact same thing happened to Team USA in last year’s semifinal against Sweden. The U.S. had a 4-0 lead before a five-straight goals by the Swedes pushed Team USA to the brink of elimination. It took a J.T. Miller goal with 40 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, where Reid Boucher scored the OT winner for the U.S. Score of that game? 6-5. Team USA’s championship game opponent was also Canada-Ontario… in Ontario. Before a raucous crowd in Timmins, the U.S. earned a 2-1 victory for its first title since 2002.
More weirdness. In 2009, with a team including Jack Campbell, Jason Zucker, Justin Faulk and Derek Forbort, the U.S., which had rolled through the tournament, went down to Canada-Pacific 3-0 before the half-way mark of the second period. The U.S. scored five consecutive goals to take a 5-3 lead, however Pacific was able to score once in the closing seconds of the middle period and once in the third to tie the game (with 1:17 remaining in regulation). Pacific then won it in overtime, 6-5 (!), sending the U.S. to the third-place game.
So what’s with these wild semifinals? I think its just the beauty of this tournament. You can’t let up even a little, or it will bite you. The Under-17 level is so hard to gauge because these guys have so much talent, but aren’t even close to their developmental peak. They are also prone to youthful mistakes. So it makes for really interesting hockey.
About tonight’s game:
According to the Winnpeg Free Press, close to 11,000 tickets have been sold for tonight’s championship match-up. That’s right. Close to 11,000 people are going to a hockey game to watch a bunch of 16 year olds play hockey. Gotta love it! USA-Canada is the best thing going at every level. The back of the Leaf jerseys might say Ontario, but there’s only one logo that matters to that crowd. Should be an intense atmosphere for these kids.
The U.S. squad had it pretty easy coming into its semifinal game. Having rolled over its previous four opponents, the test for Team USA finally came in the form of Team Pacific. Canada-Pacific and Ontario always seem to have really good teams at this tournament. So it was good that the U.S. was able to survive the scare against Pacific. Tonight they will meet a very good Ontario team that has won two of the last three titles.
Much like the United States, Ontario had a bit of a scare last night against Canada-Quebec. After going up 1-0 in the first period, Team Ontario allowed the tying goal in the second and battled through a scoreless third period. However, just 1:52 into overtime, Sean Monahan scored the game winner. So both teams come into this game battle tested after cruising in the prelims.
Knowing all of that, tonight’s match up should be a dandy. I’m sure the Ontario coaching staff is getting after their team, wanting to get that title back for their province and not allow an American team to come into Canada and take it back to the U.S.A. There’s probably a lot of “take back what’s ours” talk going on.
Danton Cole, former NHLer and head coach of Team USA, will likely stay the course with his club. He’s very confident in his group of players and the talent level of this U.S. squad is off the charts. They will have to be ready for a battle tonight, because its going to be a game with lots of contact and lots of speed. If they can win the physical battles and get some jump early, the U.S. will have a good chance to repeat as champs.
Hopefully it’s a better contest than last night’s WJC tilt. My guess is it will be a lot of fun to watch, regardless of the outcome.
If you’re interested in watching this game yourself, FASTHockey.com has been doing a very nice job with coverage all tournament long. It’s pay-per-view, but the quality has been good and the broadcasters have done a nice job, as well. With an exciting atmosphere and the (almost) always intense USA-Canada battle, you know its going to be good.
NHL Network picked up TSN’s feed for the game last year, but I have yet to hear whether or not that is going to happen again for this year’s game. Last year, we didn’t really even find out until hours before that the championship game was going to be televised in the U.S. If I hear of anything, I will have an update immediately.
I will have a full recap of the game tomorrow morning, before we get into bronze-medal game coverage for the WJC.
In other news:
The U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team is also in action to day against tournament host Sweden at the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship. @USAHockeyScores will have live updates, or you can also check out IIHF.com. Team USA is 2-0-0-0 at the tournament with big wins against the Czech Republic (11-0) and Japan (7-1). USAHockey.com also has tournament coverage.