Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day Three-Hundred Fifty-Nine: WJHC


And the last hockey-related post of this particular 365 project. Unless something epic happens in the next five days, and I doubt there's going to be anything in that amount of time that will top this.

Tonight was the gold medal game of the annual World Junior Hockey Championships. (Junior Hockey in this case means players are under 20 years of age) And oh, this one was worth writing home about.

Rewind a bit. The U.S. and Canada met in the last game of pool play on New Year's Eve. The tournament was held in Canada again. It's just about always held in Canada. And, naturally, the Canadians pretty much always win it. In fact, they'd won the last five in a row coming in to the tournament. I believe they also had a record of 35-1 in that stretch in this particular tournament. Canada owns, basically.

On New Years Eve, the U.S. and Canadian teams played a fantastic game against one another to close out pool play. In that game, the United States scored two short-handed goals, and the Canadians had to rally in the third period to send the thing to overtime, where the red maple leaf beat the red and white stripes in a shootout to remain perfect. It was the Americans' only blemish in the preliminary round.

Well, it just happened to work out that both teams played their way into tonight's championship game, and I had a feeling that, while everybody was expecting another nail-biter like the last game, this one would most likely be sort of a letdown, at least in terms of overall excitement level.

I was very, very wrong.

Both teams came in fired up for this one. The Canadian crowd was ruthless (in fact, there were reports of Canadian fans calling the American players' hotel rooms early in the morning to disrupt their sleep and throw them off their game) and rockin' for the home team. And Canada did, in fact, get on the board first, scoring just two minutes into the game. The U.S. settled things down, however, before getting two goals within thirty seconds of each other to take a lead. Canada tied the game, and the U.S. took the lead again, this time one minute into the second period. Another Canadian score, and we were tied at three after the second period.

After Canada's third goal, the American team decided to change things up a bit (since their starter had given up three goals on seven shots) and changed goalies. At that point, shots were 21-7 in favor of the U.S. The change paid off, because the Canadians rolled out 34 shots against the new netminder through the remainder of the game. (Imagine, 3 goals on 7 shots times 40 shots...)

The U.S. took control of the scoring again in the third and held a 5-3 lead...until late in the period when, for the second time in the tournament, Canada rallied in the closing minutes (2 goals in 3 minutes in this case) to send the game to overtime.

Now, since this was a championship game, and not mere pool play, the IIHF decided that there would be a full 20-minute sudden-death overtime, rather than 5 minutes followed by a shootout. SO, to overtime we go!


'Nuff said.