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U.S. victory halts Canada's world junior hockey dominance Add to ...

And so, the march to World Domination is on….

Unfortunately, it's the wrong country that seems to be taking over these days.

The United States of America last night put an end to any Canadian hopes of a record sixth straight gold medal in the World Junior Hockey Championship when the fleet, sometimes panicking young Americans pulled off an upset 6-5 overtime victory over the defending champions and pre-tournament favourites.

The win dampened an incredible Canadian comeback late in the third that saw Jordan Eberle, the clutch hero of last year's gold medal victory in Ottawa, score twice to force the overtime.

“That guy's amazing,” said U.S. goaltender Jack Campbell, who let in both of Eberle's goals and had taken the loss in Canada's 5-4 shootout win on New Year's Eve during the preliminary round.

“I had to step up tonight,” Campbell said, and he did – just in time. He held his ground in overtime and, at 4:21, his American teammates broke up ice on a three-on-one and defenceman John Carlson scored on a hard shot that beat Canadian goaltender Martin Jones.

“It's huge,” said an ecstatic Jerry D'Amigo, who scored the fourth goal for Team U.S.A. “To come out with a win here is great for us, for the U.S.”

“Everyone's kind of bummed out a bit,” said Canadian defenceman Ryan Ellis, who was on the gold-medal-winning team last year in Ottawa.

The unexpected loss – the Swedes were supposed to be the threat, not the Americans – follows a year in which the women's hockey team surrendered their world championship to the American women, and a week in which the Americans won the world under-17 hockey tournament in Timmins, Ont.

Nothing – not American Idol , not contempt for medicare, not even distant memories of the War of 1812 – bothers Canadians so much as an American victory in the Canadian game.

“Most young Canadians,” Lester Pearson told a London audience 70 years ago, “are born with skates on their feet rather than with silver spoons in their mouth.”

Last night, however, they were left with only silver – in the only sport where silver is considered an affront to Canadian sensibilities.

The only small comfort might lie in the fact that the game was far from a work of art. If it will be remembered for anything, it will be for weak goaltending at both ends of the ice. The Canadians scored on the first shot of the game, by Luke Adam, the Americans moved ahead on two seemingly harmless wrist shots, the Canadians evened matters on only their fifth shot – and when they tied the game again, 3-3 early in the second period, it sent U.S. goaltender Mike Lee to the bench in favour of Jack Campbell, who had played so well through most of the New Year's Eve classic between these same two teams, won 5-4 by Canada in a shootout.

Campbell played far better, holding off the Canadian threats until his teammates scored twice in the third period – one on a horrible rebound – that led Canadian coach Willie Desjardins to pull starter Jake Allen in favour of Martin Jones.

Jones did his job, and the Canadians fought back ferociously, the Americans barely hanging on until Eberle managed to get his two shots in behind Campbell, who let a regular-time victory slip away from Team USA once again.

Only this time, the bounces went the other direction. The gold medal was America's.

“We played Canadian hockey. We played gritty. We blocked shots. We learned from the best,” said U.S. coach Dean Blais.

With this popular tournament that began on Boxing Day now settled until Boxing Day 2011 in Buffalo, N.Y., it gives an opportunity to take a closer look at this annual event that has become the Grey Cup of Hockey to so many Canadians.

After decades of considering the Soviet Union and then Russia the No. 1 rival for world hockey supremacy, Canada must now consider that the United States is now the feared enemy, whether the two countries meet in the finals of world junior or men's and women's Olympic competition.

The cities of Regina and Saskatoon did themselves proud, the warmth of the people easily melting the deep freeze that settled in around New Year's. Thousands paid $50 for the “privilege” of using their holidays and free time to do everything from players' laundry to driving VIPs around to explaining that the difference between “a dry cold” and the cold that everyone else in the country gets.

There is about to be a revolution in 50/50 draws, with a trial run of computer-generated scoreboard-tracked ticket sales throwing Saskatchewan crowds into a betting frenzy. Last night's pot was headed into the $300,000 range by the third period. By Tuesday, the draws had grossed some $1.5-million, triple the estimated figure of $600,000.

While there is so much good to be said for this 34th edition of the World Junior Hockey Championships, there are also serious questions to be raised coming out of Saskatoon.

First and foremost were the unexpected empty seats leading up to the gold-medal game. When a seat high on the third level goes for $140 for the U.S.-Canada game in the preliminary round ($190 for the same seat for the gold-medal game), it is easy to see why even the newly prosperous fans of Saskatoon fans might think twice.

Such extraordinary prices undoubtedly comes from Hockey Canada being able to procure a guaranteed profit commitment of $12.5-million from the two Saskatchewan cities that won the rights, a guarantee that is sure to be covered but which necessitated high ticket prices.

Last year in Ottawa, 453,000 tickets were sold to the event, raising $14.8-million; this year, some 330,000 tickets raised $13.7-million. A calculator is not required to note the steep increase in individual ticket prices.

There is also the matter of the number of games. The more games the more tickets the more money, of course, but that means 10 teams get invited to the tournament rather than a far-more-competitive eight, or even six, and it doesn't take a very sophisticated fan to know that Canada vs. Latvia (16-0) is a waste of both time and money.

And yet, those fans who came clearly loved the event.

Retiree Brian Belbeck arrived with his entire face, and the faces of his son-in-law and grandson, painted with a red maple leaf – as if, in fact, they had just fallen out of a tree.

Months earlier, Belbeck and his wife Eileen, both of Prince George, B.C., had booked tickets to the World Juniors – three full packages at $1200 a piece – and driven their halfton truck 14 hours through whiteouts and black ice and, at times, -36C wind chill, to Medicine Hat, where they picked up Tim and Sherri Martens and their 11-year-old son Carter before heading on to Saskatoon.

Tim Martens figures, the family vacation to the World Juniors cost between $6,000 and $7,000 – “but it was worth every penny.”

“The best family vacation ever,” said Eileen Belbeck.

With their only complaint the outcome.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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