Day 5 of the World Junior Championships brought us two great rivals. It was Sunday afternoon in Ufa, Russia. Early morning in most of Canada and the United States, but many hockey fans set their alarms to go off before the sun rose to watch the North American teams clash. This was an important game as the U.S. was 1-1 and Canada was 2-0. It would pretty much decide if Canada’s next game versus Russia would be for 1st place in Group B.
Ufa, Russia is not an easy place to get to and there are several hundred Canadian fans at every game. This tournament has become quite important to Canadian hockey fans. Canada has won 8of 9 last games versus U.S. The last loss was in the gold medal game in Saskatoon in 2010. In other words, Canada owes the U.S. one. The players on these two teams know each other so well and some have been playing each other since minor hockey. It would not be hard for the players to get up for this game.
It was agreed by most that the winner of this game would be the team that received the better goaltending. Canada’s Malcolm Subban had to be better. His .893 save percentage would not be good enough. Goaltending coach, Ron Tugnutt, believes that Subban has it in him to come up big in big games. Fans were taking the wait and see route. U.S. goaltender John Gibson has been excellent with a .953 save percentage and had only allowed 2 goals while Subban had allowed 6.
Canada’s coach Steve Spott says his team had to control the great U.S. defensemen and their emotions. The U.S. defense is very mobile starting with Seth Jones. Seth Jones, son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, is someone that Canada planned to get a body on at all times. He is expected to be at worst a top 2 pick in the next draft. It would be a little tougher as Canada would be playing with only 11 forwards. Boone Jenner was sitting out the last game of his 3 game suspension. JC Lipon was sitting out his 1 game suspension. To compensate for the shortage the centres would rotate onto the 4th line and double-shift. Spott’s team would have to show their flexibility and depth in this game.
Dressed in their red uniforms (the U.S. was in white), Canada was the home team so they would have the last change. A good sign for Canada and its fans was the good start in the early minutes of the 1st period for goaltender Subban. He made a couple of very good saves. It was exactly what they hoped for from him. Buoyed by the confidence supplied by the strong play of their goaltender, Canada struck first.
Team captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been leading by example and showing the full depth of his skill. On his line there are two centremen as Mark Scheifele usually plays centre. Sometimes when the faceoff is on the right hand side Scheifele takes it. This is exactly what happened just past the 7 minute mark of the 1st period. He won it cleanly and then Jonathan Huberdeau found and unmarked Nugent-Hopkins in the slot. Huberdeau’s playmaking abilities have been in evidence in Canada’s 3 games. With his deceptively quick release Nugent-Hopkins beat Gibson with a wrist shot to the stick side.
Canada doubled their lead about 7 minutes later. Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie both play for the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL. They have incredible chemistry on the ice. This was apparent on Canada’s 2nd goal. Ritchie with a nice wrap around pass found Strome just outside the U.S. crease, who just had to redirect it past Gibson. Strome has proven himself to be a valuable member of the team. He has scored in 6 of the 9 WJC games he’s played in.
Gibson, despite having given up 2 goals in under 15 minutes was playing well. He made a few sparkling saves to keep his team in the game. The problem was not him, but the fact that the usually reliable U.S. defense was giving up the puck a lot and creating chances for Canada.
No one scored in the 2nd period, so going into the 3rd Canada was only 20 minutes from victory. Back-to-back penalties called against Canada in the middle of the 3rd led to a U.S. goal. Defenseman Jake Trouba, property of the Winnipeg Jets, scored off a rush into the Canadian zone. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but they all count. The goal, at the 11:02 mark, meant that it was going to be a tight collar finish for the Canadians.
At the end of the game Canada was aided in protecting the lead by a bunch of U.S. penalties. Several of which U.S. coach and former long-time NHLer Phil Housley (Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Black Hawks, Winnipeg Jets, and St. Louis Blues) didn’t agree with. They came close to icing the game with 2:07 left in the game but Nugent-Hopkins found the crossbar instead of the back of the U.S. net.
Canadian have a reputation of being polite people, so it should not be surprising that we returned the getting late penalties favour. It became a lot more interesting when Nugent-Hopkins, who is leading the tournament scoring with 8 points, got a silly boarding penalty with 1:36 left in the game. The U.S. would be finishing the game on the power play. With 1:07 left the U.S. pulled Gibson to make it 6-on-4. There were crazy times in front of the Canadian net over that last minute, but Canada held on.
It was a great goaltender game. Gibson was good, but Subban was better. By far this was Malcolm Subban’s best game of the tournament so far. He made several great saves and answered a lot of questions about him today. He was greatly deserving of the Player of the Game award for Canada, but he was also aided by his team in front of him. Canadian players did a great job blocking shots and not allowing second chances once Subban made the initial save. They completely shut down the U.S.’s first line and didn’t allow uncontested shots from the point.
The last game of the preliminary round for Canada will be on New Year’s Eve against the home Russian side. Whichever side wins this game will get a bye into the semis. Another tough foe in an important game for Canada.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Didier Massy (Switzerland) and Daniel Stricker (Switzerland)
Linesmen: Masi Puolakka (Finland) and Stanislav Raming (Russia)
-Goals: 1st Period:
7:13: Canada – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins assisted by Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele
14:44: Canada – Ryan Strome assisted by Brett Ritchie and Anthony Camara
11:02: United States – (pp) Jacob Trouba assisted by Alex Galchenyuk and Mike Reilly
-Shots on Goal: Canada: 32
United States: 37
-Players of the Game: Canada – Malcolm Subban
United States – John Gibson
-Final Score: Canada: 2
United States: 1