After a thrilling semifinal victory over Russia Wednesday, the U.S. National Junior Team faces yet another familiar foe and a bigger challenge as they’ll take on Canada for the gold medal at the 2017 World Junior Championship.
The puck is set to drop around 8 p.m. ET and will air live on NHL Network and will also be streamed on NHL.com. Here is the official stream link: https://www.nhl.com/video/live-usa-vs-canada-on-nhln/t-285362346/c-48065703
The U.S. is facing the daunting task of having to beat not one, but two teams twice in the same tournament. It’s never been done before, to my knowledge. Not only that, but they have to beat the host team on the grandest stage in junior hockey. It’s an incredible test for a team that has found a way to pass every single one before this.
With their win over Russia, the first medal-round victory for Team USA against their old rival ever at the World Juniors, this team did something incredibly special. But to make that win iconic, at least relative to U.S. World Junior history, they have to win the whole thing.
Team USA enters its fifth ever gold-medal game at the World Juniors. It will be their fourth meeting all-time with Canada in the final. The U.S. has a 2-1 edge in that series, one of the few rounds the U.S. can say it has the upper hand in the all-time numbers.
The two wins Team USA has are among the most significant moments in USA Hockey’s history and both came from some of the most memorable games this tournament has seen.
There was 2004, Team USA’s first gold in the tournament’s history. That game turned on the memorable Marc-Andre Fleury gaffe where his clearing attempt went off of Braydon Coburn and into the net. Patrick O’Sullivan was credited with the game-winning goal and his celebration makes me laugh every time I see it.
The one-knee, pump for a goal scored thanks to his inability to control the puck on the entry is basically “I don’t know what just happened, but it’s amazing and I better celebrate like it was a top-shelf snipe.”
Then there was the classic 2010 showdown where the U.S. let Jordan Eberle do what he always seems to do in a Canada jersey. He erased a two-goal deficit and sent the game to overtime. The fact that the U.S. didn’t just outright collapse after something like speaks to how special that group was.
No one will ever forget that overtime. The pace was insane and then Alex Pietrangelo had a good look from the point. Jack Campbell turned aside the shot, putting it right on the stick of John Ramage. The anticipation from John Carlson to blow the zone as soon as he saw Ramage was going to get the puck made it all happen.
Ramage hit Carlson in stride. He had Derek Stepan with him, sold the pass with his head and body position and — without looking — fired a perfect shot inside the left post past Martin Jones to spark the celebration.
The things I’ll remember about that moment (aside from getting home just in time from the World U17 Challenge which USA also won to see it) are Jason Zucker nearly killing Carlson against the boards with his exuberant celebratory leap. Also of note, how fast Zucker got there from the bench. How Carlson wasn’t concussed or dead is beyond me, but that stands out.
The other thing is that Carlson’s goal ended Canada’s run of five consecutive gold medals. It was a bit of a statement that the rest of the world was ready to push back. Ever since, no team has won back-to-back medals at the World Juniors, with only the U.S. and Finland winning multiples since Canada’s five-gold run that ended in 2010.
There have been good recent memories, but the current U.S. team faces an incredible challenge in trying to beat a Canadian team that is playing its best hockey of the tournament so far after beating previously undefeated Sweden in convincing fashion in the second semifinal.
Team USA will look to become only the second U.S. entry to finish undefeated at the WJC. Because of the new format, the U.S. has to play one more game than the perfect 2004 team had to, to close out a perfect tournament. It’s no easy task, that’s for sure.
Here are four things to know about tonight’s big gold-medal tilt:
First off, here is the lineup for tonight’s game via USA Hockey:
1. Recovering from emotions just as important as recovering from fatigue
When a team wins a game like the U.S. did Wednesday, they probably felt like they may as well have won the tournament. There were multiple instances where the U.S. had their shot at gold nearly slip through their fingers in that shootout. Then Troy Terry and Jeremy Bracco happened and the rollercoaster ride ended with an extra rush of adrenaline.
But they haven’t won anything yet.
Now, one could say that those emotions can carry over, that there’s momentum and that perhaps that adrenaline rush will mitigate some of the fatigue they may be feeling from a long game.
However, you can’t discount the fact that Team USA will be playing their seventh game in 11 days and are playing the day after a game that went to a 10-minute overtime and shootout. The U.S. also significantly shortened its bench in the third period and overtime, putting more strain on top players like Charlie McAvoy, Luke Kunin, Colin White, Clayton Keller and Caleb Jones. Not to mention goalie Tyler Parsons, who also took a couple of good knocks in the game as well.
That said, the U.S. has been able to use their whole bench for all of the previous games. They didn’t have to overtax their blueliners or their top forwards. I don’t know if you can bank energy, but they’ve at least not run the players into the ground over these last 11 days.
While Canada had an easier time against Sweden than the U.S. did against Russia, they also played a few hours later than the U.S. and leaned heavily on their top defensemen, namely Thomas Chabot who has been eating minutes all tournament. They’re in the same boat in a lot of ways when it comes to physical fatigue.
The U.S. is also apparently dealing with a flu bug going around. Tanner Laczynski was on the lineup sheet last night, but did not play due to illness. He is expected to play in the final as Motzko says he expects to have everyone tonight.
If the U.S. can get their wits about them after the big win over Russia and if they can use their depth against Canada this game like they did in the first, they’re going to have a better chance of winning gold. It’s just easier said than done.
2. Tyler Parsons gets the start
I posed this question on Twitter last night and was surprised to see how split the responses were: Should the U.S. go back to Tyler Parsons on short rest or should they start Joseph Woll, who beat Canada in the prelims and will be on several days’ rest?
Some said Parsons was a no-brainer, others said Woll for sure after beating Canada.
Of course you’d want Parsons a chance to close it out after how well he played against Russia and how good he has been in the tournament, but you cannot discount the workload he had to shoulder in that game. And as I mentioned, he got knocked around a bit by some Russian crease crashers. That takes a toll.
But he’s ready to go. Motzko confirmed this morning that it will be Parsons between the pipes to close out the tournament. I was glad I didn’t have to make the decision myself, but knowing how well Parsons has played and the fact that he has a championship pedigree after backstopping London to the Memorial Cup last year, you can’t fault the coaches for going with him here.
Meanwhile, there’s Woll, who was an absolute rock for the U.S. in their game against Canada and plays such a reserved style in the net that he gives that calming presence you love to see. But the gold-medal game is a lot different than the prelims and Woll hasn’t played since that win over Canada on New Year’s Eve.
There’s also this to keep in mind:
Go back to the 2010 tournament. The U.S. had used both Mike Lee and Jack Campbell throughout the WJC. Lee got the start in the gold-medal game, but Dean Blais didn’t hesitate when he thought it was time to make a switch. Campbell came in after Lee gave up a wonky second goal and the then-18-year-old played extremely well. Even though Campbell gave up those late goals to Eberle, he robbed a few as well.
It might be a good reference point of Motzko gets the sense Parsons doesn’t quite have it tonight. Keep that leash relatively short and if the situation dictates it, you can’t be afraid to go to Woll. Parsons has gotten the job done in every start, but if there is any lingering fatigue, it needs to be caught quickly.
3. Canada is looking like a different team from the prelims
Though they ended the first period tied 2-2, I don’t think there was any question that Canada was the far better team in their semifinal against Sweden than they were at any point in this tournament. They took Sweden’s will away in the second period and Canada never looked back.
Relentless pressure, being hawks on the puck in the offensive zone and making good plays through the neutral zone put Canada into attack mode throughout the game. That aggressiveness served them well.
They have all the skill you could want in a team, even without the NHL guys they could have. There’s enough speed and they’ve got their share of finishers on every line.
The U.S. did such a great job of containing Canada’s transition and limiting what they could do on the forecheck. They’ll have to do it again to have a chance, but it is almost certainly going to be harder this time around than it was in the prelims.
Meanwhile, Canada still has concerns with their goaltending. Carter Hart should be getting the start after his performance against Sweden despite not starting the semifinal. The U.S. will have to test him early to try to knock him off his game because even though he shut the door against the Swedes, there were some shaky moments.
4. It ain’t over ’til it’s over
The one thing you can usually count on between these two teams in the medal round is that it is going to come down to the wire. No lead is safe and nothing is won until the scoreboard runs out of time to put up.
These two clubs have shown great resilience in this tournament, which is what you need to win. Neither is going to shrink away because both have had big responses to the emotional swings of their games and the tournament at large.
The start of the game is important, but USA-Canada contests tend to build as it goes on. The drama, the suspense, the heart palpitations, they’ll all be apparent from start to finish.
As a fan, I couldn’t ask for a better matchup. As a blogger about to close this chapter of his career, I couldn’t ask for a better last game to cover for this site.
To all who have read, starting back in December 2010 to July 2014 for United States of Hockey’s original run as a regularly-updated blog, to those who checked it out over these last few weeks of my temporary reboot, I can’t thank you enough. This was a passion project from start to finish and it helped me achieve some goals and dreams I had not originally thought possible. You all helped make that possible and I will never forget that.
I’ll have a full gold-medal game recap and I plan to do one more post to cover a few things I wanted to get to before I close things up for good. The site will stay up so you can read archives if you want. You’ll still see my hockey writing in a few different spots from time to time. I’ll share more details soon. For now, we’ve got a pretty big ice hockey contest to look forward to.
It’s a great day for hockey. Enjoy the game.