SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – The World Junior A Challenge trophy is staying in the United States.
Matt Leitner scored the game-winning goal 50 seconds into the third period and the Americans held off a late push by Canada West to earn a 2-1 win on Sunday night, defending its WJAC gold medal at Molson Canadian Arena at CUP.
The U.S. is the second team to repeat as tournament champions – Canada West won the first two editions of the event, in 2006 and 2007. It defeated the Canadians in the 2008 gold medal game, winning 7-1 in Camrose, Alta.
The first period was a goaltending clinic, as Sean Bonar and Eric Mihalik made big save after big save to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes. Bonar was the busier of the two, making 15 saves – including a few that had the largest crowd of the tournament in awe.
It was Canada West that finally broke through, thanks to its big line of Connor Jones, Kellen Jones and Cody Kunyk. Kunyk and Wes McLeod worked the puck around to Kellen Jones, whose centering pass banked off an American defender and through Mihalik for a 1-0 lead.
But the U.S. would reply on a man advantage of its own just six minutes after Jones’ goal off the stick of Eamonn McDermott. The blueliner pinched in and snapped a rebound past Bonar, who was looking as if he would single-handedly win gold for the Canadians.
The McDermott goal set up a wild third period, which proved to be one of the most exciting frames in the tournament’s four-year history.
Leitner needed less than a minute to give the Americans their first lead, cutting to the middle before letting go a backhand that somehow found its way through the legs of Bonar.
Although it was the U.S. that held the advantage in shots on goal in the third, 15-8, the best chances seemed to go to the Canadians, who time and time again stormed the American net, only to be turned away by Mihalik.
The final minutes of the game were played at a frantic pace, with more than eight minutes elapsing between whistles as the seconds ticked away on Canada West’s golden dreams.
A final push, with Bonar on the bench, came up short, and the Americans were once again crowned World Junior A Challenge champions, leaving Canada West with its second silver medal in as many years.
Following the game the tournament all-star team was named, with Connor Jones, Kunyk, McLeod and Bonar joining Americans Shane Berschbach and Mac Bennett on the team.
Bonar was also named Under Armour® Undeniable MVP, joining former winners Kyle Turris (2006), Mike Connolly (2007) and Mike Cichy (2008).
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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