In the latest battle of the North American hockey rivalry, Canada defeated the U.S. 2-1 at Ufa Arena on Sunday. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome scored for Canada.
Nugent-Hopkins and Strome are 1-2 in team scoring as they vie for the tournament scoring title. But most importantly, they helped Canada get three points for the third straight time at the 2013 World Juniors.
"I think it was a big team effort for us tonight," said Nugent-Hopkins. "We played really solid for 60 minutes.
"Pucks are going in and it feels good and that’s what happening right now," said Strome.
Canada played without suspended forwards J-C Lipon and Boone Jenner. Both are eligible to return for the New Year’s Eve showdown against host Russia.
The game against the Russians will determine who gets first place in Group B and a bye to the semi-finals.
"It’s going to be a whole lot of fans booing us," said Ryan Murphy of facing Russia. "You don’t need anything to get pumped up for these games. It should be a given. We’ll be ready to go."
The Americans, who complete their round-robin slate against Slovakia on New Year's Eve, can finish no higher than third in the group.
"We had our chances," said American coach Phil Housley, whose team also lost 2-1 to Russia. "It’s one thing if you’re not getting the opportunities to score, but we are. We’ve just got to continue to stay the course. We’ve played two very good hockey teams and had a chance to tie it up in both games. We need to regroup for Slovakia."
Canadian starting goalie Malcolm Subban made 36 stops in his third win. John Gibson, who has started every game for the Americans, recorded 30 stops.
"Even before the game, you could see he was in the zone," said Canada's Mark McNeill of Subban. "In warm-up, he was stopping everything."
In front of a crowd of 6,585, it was a hard-fought matchup between these two gold medal contenders. The teams got off to a spirited start, with both goalies looking sharp.
At 7:13, Canada grabbed a 1-0 lead when Jonathan Huberdeau fed Nugent-Hopkins in the slot and the Canadian captain unleashed a zinger that beat Gibson high to the stick side.
Halfway through the period, Canada got a glorious opportunity on a 3-on-1 rush, but Gibson foiled Ryan Murphy’s shot.
A minute later, it was Subban’s turn to shine when the U.S.’s John Gaudreau busted in from the blue line on a breakaway. The Canadian goalie refused to bite on the backhand deke.
Canada went up 2-0 with 5:16 left in the first. Brett Ritchie circled around the American net and centered the puck through the crease to Ryan Strome, who made no mistake from the doorstep. It was the fourth straight World Junior game in which Strome has scored.
Gibson made a great glove save on Scheifele from close range with under three minutes remaining before the first buzzer.
Near the seven-minute mark of the second period, Canadian defenceman Griffin Reinhart took a double minor for high-sticking Ryan Hartman next to Subban’s goal crease. Subban made a series of excellent saves as the Americans came at him hard, but couldn’t deliver a goal on their four-minute power play.
"My penalty-killers played really well in front of me," said Subban modestly. "They didn’t allow a lot of across-the-crease passes, and I think that was the biggest thing, just giving me shots from the outside."
In the third period, Subban took a tripping penalty at 7:35 that gave the Americans their third man advantage of the game, but redeemed himself by conceding nothing.
However, after Strome was called for delay of game for putting the puck over the glass in his own zone, Subban couldn't hold off Trouba, who cut the deficit to 2-1 on a broken play at 11:02, whacking the puck through the goalie's legs after his initial attempt on the rush was blocked by a defender.
The Americans killed off their own momentum with a string of bad penalties -- including two checking to the head minor penalties accompanied by 10-minute misconducts -- in the closing 10 minutes. Canada got back-to-back 5-on-3 man advantages, which helped run down the clock even though they didn't score.
Nugent-Hopkins nearly became the goat when he was called for holding with 1:38 remaining. The Americans pulled Gibson for the extra attacker, but failed to capitalize.
"Our forwards will get going eventually, hopefully, including myself," said the U.S.'s Rocco Grimaldi. "We’ve just got to keep shooting on the puck on net and good things will happen."
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)