Canada held a two goal lead heading into the third period but the U.S. battled back to win 4-3 in the first IIHF World Junior Championship game played outdoors.
“Just playing with a lead, I think that’s tough,” said Dillon Dubé (Cochrane, Alta./Kelowna Rockets, WHL). “Obviously, with a team like that they know how to score and create offence so when we have a lead like that we need to hold it. But, overall, we did well with everything going on tonight so we have to build off that.”
Carter Hart (Sherwood Park, Alta./Everett, WHL) finished with 32 saves in the shootout loss. The two other players from B.C., Cal Foote (Kelowna, Kelowna Rockets, WHL) and Penticton Vees alumni Dante Fabbro (Coquitlam/Boston University, HE), did not record any points.
The rivals that battled to a shootout in the gold medal at last year’s tournament (which the U.S. also won) played in front of 44,592 fans at New Era Field in Buffalo who braved a blizzard for the first outdoor game in World Juniors history.
“When the puck dropped we didn’t really look at the crowd, but when we came out to start the game we kind of looked around and saw a nearly full stadium. We felt the crowd, it was a unique experience and we were happy to be here,” said Maxime Comtois (Waterloo, Ont./Sault St. Marie, OHL).
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In the shootout Sam Steel (Sherwood Park, Alta./Regina, WHL) hit the outside of the post on the first Canadian attempt and Kieffer Bellows went five-hole on Hart to put the U.S. ahead.
Robert Thomas (Aurora, Ont./London, OHL) was turned away by U.S. goaltender Jake Oettinger before Brady Tkachuk picked his spot over the glove of Hart. Taylor Raddysh (Caledon, Ont./Erie, OHL) and Casey Mittelstadt were denied on their chances, and Oettinger got his stick on a backhand deke by Drake Batherson (New Minas, N.S./Cape Breton, QMJHL) to give the Americans the win.
“We have practiced and prepared for it [shootout], but at the same time it’s not a deciding shootout. We can work on it, look at it and make it better,” said Dominique Ducharme, Team Canada head coach.
Cale Makar (Calgary, Alta./University of Massachusetts, HE) and Dubé scored power-play goals in the first period for the Canadians. Makar needed just 4:13 to give Canada the lead, going five-hole on Oettinger, and Dubé took a short pass from Steel and wired a shot just under the crossbar at 15:17 for a 2-0 lead after one.
Penalty trouble led to a long five-on-three power play for the Americans late in the second period, and Bellows blasted a slap shot past Hart at 16:27 to get the U.S. on the board.
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Boris Katchouk (Waterloo, Ont./Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) got his stick on a Jake Bean (Calgary, Alta./Calgary, WHL) just 1:12 later to restore the two-goal advantage after 40 minutes.
The U.S. tied the game early in the third period with a pair of goals in rapid succession; Scott Perunovich knocked in a pass from Mittelstadt for a power-play goal at 6:09 before Tkachuk finished a Mittelstadt set-up 34 seconds later to make it 3-3.
“What a tremendous atmosphere and a terrific bounce-back effort by our players,” said Bob Motzko, head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team. “This was just another moment in the U.S.-Canada rivalry and something our players and staff will enjoy for years to come. We’ll enjoy this win tonight but come tomorrow our focus turns to Finland.”
Canada faces Denmark on Saturday (5 p.m. PT). A win over the Danes will give the Canadians first place in Group A. The U.S. faces Finland on Dec. 31 to finish off their preliminary round play. Quarterfinals will be played on Jan. 2 and semifinals on Jan. 4. The bronze and the gold medal games will be played on Jan. 5.