U.S. Wins World Junior Gold
Carlson Scores in OT to Cap Epic Thriller Over Canada
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
SASKATOON, Saskatchewan John Carlson scored on a 3-on-1 break 4:21 into overtime to give the United States a thrilling 6-5 win in the gold medal game at the World Junior Championships on Tuesday.
For Team USA, it's the second gold medal in its history at the World Juniors, and it breaks Canada's five-year winning streak. The other gold medal came in 2004, also a win over Canada.
The Americans held a two-goal lead late in the third period, but the tide began to turn when Notre Dame's Kyle Palmieri was called for a questionable goaltender interference penalty with four minutes remaining. Canada's Jordan Eberle, a native of Regina, Sask., and a member of the hometown Regina Pats of the WHL, who has been clutch the entire tournament, scored twice in the closing minutes to ignite the crowd and send the game to overtime.
Just a few days ago — on New Year's Eve — the U.S. lost a two-goal third-period lead in round-robin play to Canada, then lost in a shootout. That forced the U.S. to have to play two games to reach the gold-medal game, whereas Canada only needed to win one.
But here the two neighboring nations stood again, adding to the growing lore in a rivalry that has included so many epic games in the last 15 years or so, most won by Canada.
The game did not disappoint, with the most goals ever in a gold medal game, and both teams pulling their goaltender.
Carlson originally committed to the University of Massachusets before pulling out of the deal and going to Major Junior. After a brief stint there, he played in the AHL and this year has already played three games with the Washington Capitals.
The winner came after U.S. goalie Jack Campbell made a big save on one end, and with the teams playing a furiously-paced 4-on-4 in the OT, it sprang the Americans the other way. Carlson led the 3-on-1 up the left wing, and wound up taking the shot himself, putting it up high to the short side.
It was 2-2 after one period, and the U.S. went up 3-2 in the second. But after starting goaltender Mike Lee, a freshman at St. Cloud State, allowed a bad goal that allowed Canada to tie it, he was pulled in favor of Campbell, a 17-year old who originally committed to the University of Michigan. Campbell, who hadn't started since the last game against Canada, was superb, despite those two late third-period goals allowed.
Meanwhile, the Americans scored twice in the third period, including a goal off a bad rebound allowed by Canada goaltender Jake Allen. That's when he was pulled in favor of Martin Jones, who didn't allow the goal until the overtime.
It was a team unlike any in a long time for Team USA; it included a number of players that bailed out of NCAA commitments to head to Major Junior, moreso than ever before. It was the task of head coach Dean Blais, a two-time national championship coach at North Dakota and now the coach at Nebraska-Omaha, to mesh this young squad together, which he did brilliantly. Blais was picked to coach this team while he was still employed by the USHL's Fargo Force, but stayed on as head coach despite accepting the position at UNO during the summer.
"We put the right team together for this tournament, filled with gritty, hard-working players," Blais said. "Our guys battled the whole tournament, and we're very happy to come away with the gold here in Saskatoon."
Blais tipped his cap to his counterparts afterward.
"We played Canadian hockey," Blais said. "We played gritty. We learned from the best. It's not an accident you guys have won five straight gold medals."
Part of helping bring this disparate group together was having a selection came in Lake Placid during the summer, as opposed to just picking players for the team. Canada has always followed that formula.
"I didn't want a bunch of fancy Dans who wouldn't play both ends and were cocky and arrogant and I didn't have that team," said Blais, perhaps taking a knock — consciously or not — at past U.S. teams, which had better talent on paper but were accused of not toughing it out in the tournament. "We picked guys with good character and yeah, we got a few breaks, but win or lose, I think we had the right guys here."
Nine of the players are eligible to return for next year's World Juniors, which will take place in Buffalo, N.Y.