I’m not sure there’s a better phrase in hockey than “USA versus Canada.” Sure, “Game 7” is kind of a big one, but USA versus Canada today is kind of like a Game 7. One game remains at the World Under-18 Championship and the gold medal is on the line as Team USA takes on Canada. We’ll have it live on FASTHockey.com at noon ET.
The Americans seek to extend their medal run to five consecutive years, while Canada is looking for its first gold since 2008. Team USA has had a difficult road to get here, while Canada has essentially steamrolled its way to the final.
These two teams met in a pre-tournament game, with the U.S. coasting to a 4-1 win. There are a lot of differences between this Canada team and that one, so the result is rendered moot.
With the gold medal at stake and probably the two most talented teams in the tournament squaring off, Sunday’s match-up at noon ET should be an instant classic.
Coming up after the jump, a complete preview of today’s contest.
Team USA has come a long way from the preliminary round in which it finished 2-0-0-2. Since then, Team USA has faced the toughest path to the gold-medal game having to meet defending silver medalist Sweden in the quarterfinals, host country Russia in the semis and now Canada in the final. Talk about a grind.
The path has made the U.S. battle tested however. The losses in the prelims now look more like necessary adversity. After Friday’s incredible come-from-behind win over Russia in a shootout, the team is coming off of back-to-back games of playing its best hockey.
Now the pressure is as high as it will get all tournament. Canada has a team that has scored 32 times. They have the tournament’s best player to date in 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid, who has 14 points including eight goals, both tournament highs. Moreover, Canada has allowed just four goals in the tournament to date and cruised to the gold medal game with a big win over the Czech Republic and a hard-fought 3-1 win over Finland.
Sunday’s game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome should provide a great test for both teams.
The U.S. is certainly going to provide the best defense Canada has met in this tournament. Team USA’s top three blueliners, Steven Santini, Gage Ausmus and Will Butcher, have been getting better and better as the tournament wears on. They’ll have to prepare for the toughest forward group they’ve seen and some relentless forechecking.
The goaltending match-up is a great one too. Thatcher Demko is coming off a confidence-building shootout win, in which he stopped two of Russia’s most skilled players to help secure the U.S. a win. Meanwhile, Philippe Desrossiers has allowed just two goals in 240 minutes between the pipes. Goals could be hard to come by today.
With that in mind, it’s going to be a tight battle throughout. Expect the high energy we always seem to see when the U.S. and Canada meet up. There will be a lot of hits, probably some extracurricular activity after the whistle, but above all hockey in its purest form.
Here’s a look at some potential keys for Team USA.
Shut Down McDavid — Easier said than done, but if the U.S. has success taking away chances from Canada’s top line led by McDavid, they’ll have success. Joined by potential first-rounders Sam Reinhart and Morgan Klimchuk, the McDavid line has accounted for 29 points. Canada gets the last change today, so expect Don Hay to try and get the right match-ups for his big guys.
Make the D work — If the U.S. can apply pressure to Canada’s D, they could create some cracks to generate opportunities. The U.S. has very good size and tenacity up front, which will be key in forechecking situations. Should Team USA win board battles and create confusion on the forecheck, they’ll have some success. In addition to the D, the U.S. has to finish its chances on Desrossiers. There may not be many, so they’ll have to make the most of it.
Endurance — The U.S. played 70 minutes of hockey Friday night. With the day off, the players should be better rested, but this is also the seventh game in 11 days. The defense especially will have to be as efficient as possible on their shifts to avoid getting worn down. Canada will do all it can to make sure the D is breathing heavy on the U.S. back line.
Establish the Pace — The U.S. is going to have to make this their game by establishing the pace, making good decisions and keeping pressure on throughout the game. If Canada is able to establish their game first, it’s going to be tough for the U.S. to recover. Being smart, making good decisions and staying disciplined are all huge. All mean mostly the same thing, but emphasis matters.
Sacrifice — One of the things the U.S. did so well in the late goings of the game against Russia was paying the price to win. They had to block a lot of shots, had to backcheck hard, battle through long shifts and do everything they could to own the net-front at both ends. That only increases ten-fold today. Canada matches USA’s size, speed and strength well. It’s going to come down to who wants gold more. Cliche, sure, but true.
For many of the American players, this is the culmination of two years of hard work at the National Team Development Program. This is the event they get up for every years and everything they’ve done to this point has been in preparation for this. Some see it as an advantage, but all that matters is what happens between the buzzers. Nothing will be handed to the players.
Team USA is also playing with heavy hearts tonight as they learned of longtime coach and frequent face around the NTDP Tim Taylor had passed away Saturday. Many of the players have been around Coach T and are quite fond of him. Knowing Coach T, he wouldn’t want to be a distraction, but the players may have a little extra jump tonight.
Team USA will meet Canada at noon ET on FASTHockey.com. Broadcast starts at 11:45 a.m. It has been a privilege to be a part of this tournament for the fourth year as the play-by-play man for Team USA. Hope you’ll tune in. It’s a great day for hockey.