The most anticipated hockey game in Canada and the United States didn't take place in Pittsburgh on New Years Night. It takes place tonight in Buffalo.
The United States and Canada meet in the highly anticipated re-match of last year’s World Junior Under 20 Championship gold medal game. If it is anything like the game just played between the Russians and Team Sweden, it will be an instant classic.
The United States won the gold in dramatic fashion last year. Current Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson ended the Canadians run of five straight tournament victories when he scored the winning goal in Overtime, stunning the host country and the crowd in Saskatoon .
The gold medal was the first since 2004 for the USA and only the second in the history of the tournament which began officially in 1977.
Tonight's game is a semi-final contest. The winner will play the Russians who just upset Sweden in an overtime shootout to advance to the Gold Medal game.
The rivalry between the US and Canada has heated up within the last year. Canada beat the United States in the men’s and women’s Olympic final. The men’s final ended much like the WJC tournament did, with an overtime goal.
The United States beat Canada in the men’s world junior final, won the under 17world tournament by beating Ontario in the final and won the under 18 tournament without even facing Canada.
The Canadians have finished third or better 26 times in WJC U20 play. The have won gold 15 times. On two separate occasions Canada won five straight tournaments, 1993-97 and 2005-09.
The Canadians came into this WJC tournament as underdogs, something that hasn't happened since the great Soviet Union teams of the late 70's and early 80's played. The reason is because the defending champion, The Unites States returned eight players from last year’s squad, including the gold medal game winning goalie Jack Campbell.
The Unites States have won four games, earning 11 of a possible 12 points their only blemish an opening-night overtime win over Finland, which earned them two points instead of three.
The American squad has not been as dominant in winning, as many expected. They beat Finland in overtime, 3-2, Slovakia 6-1, Germany by 4-0, and Switzerland by only 2-1. In four games, no American player has more than two goals, and the top scorer is forward Charlie Coyle of Boston University with six points.
The Canadians coming into the tournament were concerned that they may not have had the prolific goal scorer like they had on past teams.
Team Canada doesn't seem to be missing a beat.The Canadians have scored a lot of points in this tournament. Canada earned 10 of a possible 12 points in the first round.
They have huge tournament-leading stats, led by forward Brayden Schenn with seven goals and 16 points and defenseman Ryan Ellis with two goals and nine points. Canada has a player at the top of or near the top in every offensive category.
All of the scoring didn't help them win their group as Sweden did that in beating the Canadians in a shootout on New Year’s Eve, 6-5. Losing that game cost the Canadians a shot at coming full circle in gaining revenge from last year. The loss meant that they could only meet the US in the semi-finals.
As usual the game is bigger in Canada, not in my house but as a whole. Most of the fans in the HSBC Center will be wearing Canadian red tonight.
The Americans head coach is Keith Allain who is the head coach for the current number one ranked college hockey team in division 1 play, Yale University.
Allain was born in the United States but his father is Canadian. American forward Ryan Bourque and son of Hall of Fame NHL defenseman Ray Bourque pointed out that the Canadians can't possibly be labeled underdogs.
"For them to say they’re the underdogs, I think it’s hard to be underdogs when you have 15 first-round picks on your team,” said Bourque. “Look what they’ve done in the past six years, winning five of the last six. It’s tough to say you’re an underdog with that.”
When asked about the potential of the HSBC Center being three quarters Canadians fans Bourque replied, "It’s going to be crazy, hectic going through it last year in Saskatoon was amazing. We’re going to have a share of Americans in the stands. But to have that much red in the stands for Canada, I mean, you’ve got the border so close, that makes it that much more fun to play.”
I will blog this game live tonight for the Bleacher Report. Please join me in a little over an hour at 7:15 p.m.with comments and questions. The game will be broadcast live on the NHL Network.
Sit back, relax and enjoy what is sure to be as close to an American-Canadien war as you will ever see.
One last thing....USA>>>>USA>>>>>USA