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Team Canada goaltender Mark Visentin makes a save against Team United States during second period semi-final action at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday, January 3, 2011. (Frank Gunn)
Team Canada goaltender Mark Visentin makes a save against Team United States during second period semi-final action at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday, January 3, 2011. (Frank Gunn)

ROY MACGREGOR

Canadians exact revenge with a thumping of tournament favourite Add to ...

They opened the evening game with a blast of patriotic songs - Toby Keith's Red White and Blue, Neil Diamond's America - but perhaps it would have been more appropriate if they had just repeated the music that launched the afternoon match.

The Bangles' Just Another Manic Monday.

It was precisely that this day in cold, blowy Buffalo: the Russians shocking the Swedes 4-3 in an afternoon shootout to advance to Wednesday's gold-medal game, the Canadians overwhelming the United States 4-1 in the evening to gain their own longed-for chance to retrieve the gold they lost to the United States last year in Saskatoon.

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The Americans might even have appreciated one of the lines from the Bangles' hit: "These are the days/ when you wish your bed was already made."

It was not a good night for the world junior championship favourites. Up against a Canadian team supposedly outclassed in goal, their invincible Jack Campbell looked remarkably 'vincible while Canada's Mark Visentin, rarely threatened, was solid and workmanlike at the other end of the ice.

Up against a defence supposedly too slow for their vaunted speed, the Americans failed to find their wings as they had a year ago in Saskatoon, when they defeated Canada 6-5 in overtime to deny the Canadians what would have been a sixth successive gold medal.

The chance to begin a new string will begin Wednesday evening when Team Canada faces the surprising Russians, who are unexpected finalists. On Sunday against Finland and Monday against a strong Swedish team, however, the Russians showed an ability rarely on display in national teams of the past at any level: the ability to launch, successfully, a desperate comeback in the dying moments of a game in which they trailed.

It will be something for the now-favourite Canadians to keep in mind if they have a lead going into the third period come Wednesday.

This night the large, physical Canadians outhit and outchecked the Americans who, a year ago, had successfully used astonishing speed and their own physical presence to match and, ultimately, overmatch the Canadians.

But it was not to be so this night on home territory for the Americans. They were stopped consistently on the rush. The Canadians fore-checked effectively and backchecked so strongly the Americans were unable to get good scoring chances on Visentin.

"It doesn't matter what it's sliced or diced on paper," Canadian head coach Dave Cameron had said with prescience earlier in the day.

"We've got to win the game."

And so they did, though undoubtedly the organizers - and broadcaster TSN - would have preferred the North American bragging rights be settled over the championship itself.

"If we want the gold medal," Canadian forward Louis Leblanc had said, "we're going to have to beat them at some point."

That point came earlier than expected both in the tournament and in this particular game, as the Americans displayed a confusion that was rarely seen in Saskatoon. On Canada's first goal scored barely two minutes into the game, defencemen Jon Merrill and Brian Dumoulin simply forgot that Canadian forward Curtis Hamilton was on the ice, and not only on the ice but standing in the slot straight out from Campbell's net. Cody Eakin got the puck to him and Hamilton was able to come in tight, taking not one but three swipes at the puck - one stopped, one a whiff, one successful - to put Canada into the lead.

Eakin had a particularly strong game, at one point backchecking so hard he was able to lift the stick of an American forward just as the player was about to unleash a point-blank shot. Had the shot come, however, it is likely Visentin would have saved it, for the much-doubted Canadian goaltender had a fine outing.

Two Canadians managed to gain cheers out of both sides of the sellout crowd: Marcus Foligno for his hard hits, and Zack Kassian, for a third-period breakaway in which he scored easily on Campbell. Both teenagers are draft picks of the local NHL franchise, the Buffalo Sabres.

U.S. forward Jerry D'Amigo had suggested that the U.S. team's extra day of rest, while Canada was forced to dispatch Switzerland in Sunday's quarter-final, would work to their advantage. "Playing this many games in this many games," he said, "it's kind of hard to get your legs under you."

Yet it was the well-rested Americans who had no legs.

And the tired Canadians who ran away with it.

"We want Russia!" the mostly Canadian crowd chanted as the clock died down.

"We want Russia! We want Russia!"

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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