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Team Canada fans make their presence felt during third period World Junior Hockey action between Canada and Russia in Buffalo, NY, on Sunday, December 26, 2010.

Frank Gunn

There was an incredible sea of red in Western New York to start the world junior tournament on Sunday, and it stretched from all three of the nearby border crossings to inside and outside of the HSBC Arena.

And while it was widely expected that there would be plenty of Team Canada jerseys in the seats for the 4 p.m. tilt between Canada and Russia, what wasn't as predicted was just how many would remain for the late game between the United States and Finland.

With large sections of the arena emptied out, it wasn't difficult to discern that much of the Canadians contingent was largely pro-Finland, cheering its goals and jeering the "home" side in a game the U.S. eventually won 3-2 in overtime.

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Given that nearly two-thirds of all tournament tickets have been sold to Canadians and the tournament's proximity to the U.S. border, Team USA appears to be the host in name only at the 2011 event.

Canadian coach Dave Cameron was asked Monday what he thought of fans rooting against their rival in a game their team wasn't even participating in.

"That wasn't the fans -- that was Canada's coaching staff," he quipped. "Was it the end section down there [where the coaches were]

"That's just the rivalry."

Selling the relatively pricy ticket packages in Buffalo -- often the top hockey city in the U.S. in terms of television ratings for NHL games -- hasn't been easy, and a handful of the world junior games have been offered at 50-per-cent off in the weeks leading up to the event.

The Americans' tournament-opening victory, however, drew an announced crowd of only 14,093 compared to a 18,690 sellout for Canada versus Russia.

There were waits of up to two hours at some border crossings leading up to Sunday's game and many Buffalo hotels are filled with Canadian patrons.

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A rousing rendition of O Canada was also heard several times outside of the arena in a patriotic celebration reminiscent of what happened at the Vancouver Olympics last February.

The U.S. team was well aware of how Canadian-heavy ticket sales were coming in, however, and the players said they weren't disappointed by the atmosphere of their first game.

"It's just noise in there," captain John Ramage said. "You kind of just tune it out. But I definitely heard the U-S-A chants."

"I think it's something we expected," added forward Ryan Bourque, the son of former NHL star Ray Bourque. "Obviously the border's not too far away so we're going to expect a lot of red. I think we had a lot of Americans to cheer us on as well.

"It just felt good to finally have some people behind us. I think with the Canadian fans there, that almost makes it more fun, too, with the pressure playing in front of them. And the adversity."

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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