The semi-final match between Canada and the United States was one for the ages, as the Canadians fell behind 4-1 in the third period, pulled their goalie twice to tie the game only to see the Americans score in overtime to reach their third consecutive Under-18 final.
USA vs. Canada 5-4 (1-1, 1-0, 2-3, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos
The game between the North American rivals opened with tight checking and little in the way of quality scoring chances for either team, giving no hints as to what was to come.
After the game settled down, Canada was given a golden opportunity with a 5-on-3 advantage when USA forward Reid Boucher shot the puck into the stands during a penalty kill. On the power play, Canadian Ryan Murphy’s shot from the point was deflected in front by Brett Ritchie for the opening goal.
The Americans managed only four shots in the opening period but were dangerous with their breakouts, pouncing on any mistakes by the Canadian defence. One such mistake allowed the US to even the score, when JT Miller blocked a pass from the point by Connor Murphy, chipped the puck ahead and skated the length of the ice before firing a low wrist shot past Malcolm Subban.
Coming out of the first intermission both teams played conservatively, each waiting for a mistake to be made by the other. The US got the first chance with a 5-on-3 power play of their own, but Subban stood tall and kept the puck out of the net as Canada killed off both penalties.
Subban, though, could not be faulted later on when the Canadian defence left American Reid Boucher open in the high slot. Miller won the puck down low and made the easy pass to Boucher, who got it off with enough velocity to beat Subban between the legs.
With both teams playing well and the US evening up the shot count at 25-25 by the second intermission, the spotlight turned increasingly to goaltenders Subban and John Gibson of the US. Unfortunately for the Canadians Subban would give up a pair of short-handed goals in quick succession to drop the Canadians behind 4-1.
However, facing a 3-goal deficit with under fourteen minutes remaining, the Canadians just kept coming. Ritchie scored on the power play two minutes after the US to close the gap at two goals.
Then, with four minutes left in the game and a penalty called on the US, Team Canada coach Mike Williamson pulled his goalie for the extra attacker. On the ensuing 6-on-4 advantage, Team Canada captain Ryan Murray got the puck at the point and blasted a shot through Gibson to get within one score.
At this point the crowd was entirely behind Canada, chanting and willing the tying goal to happen. And with Subban on the bench once more, Murray fired a shot to the net from the top left corner. Gibson made the initial save but couldn’t contain the rebound, which went to his left and onto the stick of Mark Scheifele, who frantically jammed it in to equalize with 51 seconds left in front of a screaming crowd, a euphoric Canadian bench, and a stunned US team.
The seconds ticked off of an incredible third period, and both teams took to the ice for overtime. Canada, with all the momentum and support on their side, had two great opportunities to finish the game but shot the puck wide both times.
Then, a point shot bounced back off the boards and triggered a two-on-one for the US. Forward Tyler Biggs skated down the side of the boards, drew back and fired a shot into the back of the net, stopping the Canadians cold and silencing the crowd.
“I thought we were extremely fortunate to win that game. (Team Canada coach) Mike Williamson did a masterful job with his team when they were down 4-1, making these 18 year old kids believe that they could swing the momentum back into their favour,” said USA coach Ron Rolston.
“They were taking it to us in overtime too but we were fortunate that the puck came back on the weak side and allowed us to go back up ice. I’m thankful that we won but I know that we were very fortunate as well."
The U.S. will go for its third straight gold medal Sunday when it faces off against Sweden. For Team Canada, the loss means a date with Russia in the bronze medal game.
“It would be easy to fold the tents and go their separate ways when it was 4-1 but they didn’t do that,” said Williamson of his team. “Together they clawed back and showed tremendous character and I am so proud of them.”
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)