While the final score finished 6-3 in favor of Canada over the United States Wednesday in preliminary-round action at the 31st annual International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, the game was far closer than the final score indicated.
“I was proud of our effort overall,” said U.S. Head Coach Ron Rolston. “We battled back and kept coming until the end. I told our guys afterward to stay positive and stay together. This team has not yet reached its potential and we’ll work hard in practice the next two days to work on some areas that need to be addressed.”
Canada held a 2-0 lead after the opening period with the goals coming in the final 5:17 of the period. Steve Downie beat U.S. netminder Jeff Zatkoff between the legs on a two-on-one break at 14: 43 before Tommy Pyatt tipped a puck past Zatkoff off Cody Franson’s shot from the center point on the power play at 17:33.
Team USA’s best chances came on Justin Abdelkader’s shot from in tight on the power play midway through the period and on a Nate Gerbe blast from the left faceoff circle off a 3-on-2 break with two minutes left in the period.
Team USA fell behind 3-0 just 1:55 into the second period when Jonathan Toews scored on the backhand off a rebound with Canada on the power play. The United States took just :29 to get back into the contest when Erik Johnson’s shot from the center point beat a screened Carey Price.
Bill Sweatt made one of the tournament’s prettiest plays as he circled behind his own net and avoided multiple Canadian players in a rush up the right side of the ice. Sweatt’s shot from the right circle went off the end boards and came out the other side where Mike Carman banged it in an open net.
Toews scored on a penalty shot at 9:13 of the third period to put Canada back in front by two. Erik Johnson threw his stick in an attempt to knock the puck from Toews, who was in on a break. Sweatt got the U.S. back to within a goal at 13:50 when he put home a rebound off Jack Skille’s initial shot.
Two goals by Darren Helm in the final 1:43, including an empty-netter at 19:03, sealed the win for Team Canada.
Zatkoff finished with 21 saves, while Price made 32 stops for Germany.
Team USA will have two days off before battling Slovakia in the third of its four preliminary-round games on Saturday. Opening faceoff is set for 11 a.m. and the game can be heard live on usahockey.com and seen live on NHL Center Ice.
NOTES: Skille was named the U.S. Player of the Game. … The 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship features athletes under the age of 20 on international teams including the United States, Belarus, Canada, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. … The U.S. National Junior Team is coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2006 World Junior Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. … Eight members of the U.S. National Junior Team are returning from last year’s team, including Taylor Chorney, Jeff Frazee, Nate Gerbe, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Brian Lee, Peter Mueller and Jack Skille .