Team Canada Digs Deep in New Year's Eve Barnburner

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Team Canada Digs Deep in New Year's Eve Barnburner

Every now and then in the sports writing business, something happens that is so unbelievable, so compelling, that a writer simply cannot do it justice. 

The New Year's Eve battle between Canada and the U.S. at the World Junior Championship is one of those things.

You want goals? You got 'em. Big saves? Check. Bad blood? Yup. A thrilling comeback? It's there.

TSN's Gord Miller said it best, after Dustin Tokarski's stone-cold stick-up on Colin Wilson: "It's official. This game has now had everything."

I have watched hockey for a long time. I have had more than my fill of exciting World Junior action. And I can say without reservation that Tokarski's flash of leather is the most impressive stop I have seen at this tournament.

One thing is clear. If you missed this game because of a New Year's Eve party, you are feeling like a pretty big idiot right now.

At this point, I feel I should probably tell you the score of the game. It got lost in all the other thrilling storylines. Canada won the game 7-4, with two empty-netters masking the fact that this baby was in doubt right up to the final minute.

Things didn't look good for the Canadians early on in the battle for first place in Group A and a bye to the semi-final.

The Canucks got into penalty trouble early on and grew increasingly frustrated, with some players losing control of themselves. Tyler Myers and Zach Boychuk, in particular, looked pretty stupid in decking American players after the whistle. Boychuk was lucky to escape unpenalized.

The upshot of all this is that the Americans cruised to an early 3-0 lead. Colorado Avalanche first-rounder Kevin Shattenkirk had the first goal on a low shot Tokarski should have had.

It was a shaky start for the netminder as well as his teammates. Jimmy Hayes, a second round pick of the Maple Leafs, scored the second goal on a five-on-three, one-timing a centering pass that Tokarski clearly was not ready for.

The third goal, scored by Senators first-rounder Jim O'Brien, was a top-shelf torpedo that Martin Brodeur wouldn't have stopped.

So things are going down the tubes pretty quickly for our red-and-white heroes, right? Fear not in the great white north. Your faith in Team Canada is about to be restored.

And who better to do it than the patriarch of puck, John Tavares? 

When the Canadians finally got a power play of their own, Tavares camped out in his office next to the right post and banged in a cross-crease feed from Cody Hodgson of the Vancouver Canucks to calm down his teammates.

Less than a minute later, Tavares struck again with an impressive individual effort, snaring a wayward pass in the neutral zone, breaking down the right side, sidestepping a diving defender and roofing the puck over Thomas McCollum from close range.

This is where the bad blood comes in. On their way to the bench, the celebrating Canadians had to pass by the Americans. U.S. forward Eric Tangradi stuck out his stick and jabbed Chris DiDomenico in the face as he passed. 

Stefan Della Rovere, behind DiDomenico, thought van Riemsdyk had hit his teammate and rammed him into the boards from behind, sending his face straight into a camera.

Neither player was penalized and the intensity level ratcheted up about a thousand degrees. Both teams toed a tightrope of emotions, just a hair away from going over the edge.

"After that first period, we were jumping up and down in the dressing room and going nuts," Ryan Ellis told TSN. "We had to settle down."

Then, with under two minutes to go in the period, Jordan Eberle pulled off a fine bit of stick-handling in tight and sent it over McCollum to tie the game.

Della Rovere lost his balance on that tightrope of emotions early in the second period, hammering Shattenkirk into the corner boards from behind. He managed to avoid a game misconduct, but was handed a two-and-10 and never saw the ice again. Pat Quinn wasn't going to take any chances in a game with so much on the line.

Boychuk gave the Canadians their first lead 37 seconds into the middle frame on a quirky rebound, but Jonathan Blum knotted the score again not long after on an American man advantage.

Almost seven minutes in, Hodgson gave Team Canada the lead for good with a bad-angle shot that appeared to go in off a U.S. defender.

Later in the second period, Wilson took a centering pass all alone in front of Tokarski. There was no one near him. He had all day. He was going to tie the game, simple as that. Wilson dekes right, slips it under the glove, it's going in the net...

"Oh no you DON'T!" as Pierre McGuire put it.

Tokarski simply took it away. He made a save that will go down as one of the greatest in WJC history. It will not soon be forgotten by anyone watching in this country.

After the game opened with seven goals scored on the first 18 shots, it suddenly became a tight-checking goaltending duel in the third period. There was no scoring until the final minute when McCollum was yanked from the net.

Enter Tavares again. This guy is so slick, he even makes empty-netters look pretty.

Grabbing the puck at centre ice, Tavares held off his man with his left arm and steered the puck with his right, protecting the disc until the last second and slipping it into the empty cage with one hand on the stick.

The Americans kept McCollum on the bench and Tyler Ennis added another gimmie to make it 7-4.

Canada got a scare in the second when Boychuk was driven into the end boards by Teddy Ruth, banging his ankle. X-rays came back negative, but it's unknown if he will be ready to go for Saturday's semifinal against Russia.

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