The Way It Should Have Been
On Monday night, Canada dominated the USA.
On Tuesday night, it was a very different game.
On Monday night, the Canadian side of the rivalry got to indulge in a little schadenfreude as a superior Canadian team rolled over its American adversary. The Canadians were faster, stronger and hungrier. Monday night was an old Western movie for Canadian hockey fans. Wyatt Earp gunned down the Clantons and the good guys won.
On Tuesday night, it was war. It was fast, it was physical, it was back-and-forth, it was tense, it was a game that was anyone's for the taking. Everyone tried to get their fingers on it, everyone left it all out on the ice.
And if you missed it, Team Canada-Ontario defeated Team USA 5-3 for the Under-17 Gold Medal.
But this was a game you wanted to see. Team Canada took an early lead on a goal by Kerby Rychel but the United States answered right back. Two quick goals by Belleville's Brendan Gaunce and Ottawa's Sean Monahan staked Canada to a two goal lead after one.
But you knew it wasn't over.
In period two, Team Canada-Ontario tried to shut it down and Team USA tried to open it up. A goal by Team USA's Miles Koules halfway through the period narrowed Ontario's lead to one. But that wasn't the hallmark of the second period. This game was a give and take physical affair that even the seventies Philadelphia Flyers would have been proud of.
It's games like this where people like me aren't sure if we're supporters or reporters. Do we stay neutral and try to give the objective story? Or does getting involved make the experience more real? I got involved.
Games like this can come down to gamebreakers. And here, America's gamebreaker was better than Canada's. There wasn't a Canadian fan who didn't start praying whenever Seth Jones touched the puck. Jones is a big defenseman whose father was Popeye Jones of the NBA. Just sixteen, Jones is already 6'4" and figures to grown another couple inches. But his skating is incredible. The American defenseman can change the momentum with a single hit or pass or rush. And there were shifts in this game where he was a man among boys. We'll probably all get to see him next winter in Calgary at the World Juniors.
Jones was credited with the American goal that tied the game. To my eyes, it looked like it was Patrick Sieloff, but I'll go with the official score.
It was the third goal of the game that Canada's gamebreaker, star netminder Daniel Altschuller, probably should have had. Altschuller's legend had reached near mythic proportions over the course of this tournament. But he was decidedly mortal in this affair.
With nineteen minutes to play, the game was tied and the intensity went to eleven. A game that was already physical started to get nasty. Ontario Captain Matia Marcantuoni had set a physical tone early in the game with big hits on Dakota Mermis and Ryan Hartman but stepped it up later in the game dealing out healthy hits to Conner Carrick and Patrick Sieloff in the third.
Not to be outdone was his Team USA counterpart, Captain Jacob Trouba who drove the net and ran over Altschuller halfway through the period. After serving his penalty for interfering with Altschuller, Trouba stepped out of the box and dropped Ontario's Chris Marchese as he cut through the neutral zone.
Shot for shot, pound for pound. This was the best hockey game of the holidays. This was Ali and Foreman in the Jungle, or Ali and Frazier in the Phillippines. It was a rumble, it was a thriller, it was the most fun Winnipeg has had since the Jets left town.
And it had a Hollywood ending.
Sean Monahan cut off a USA pass with thirteen minutes left to put Team Ontario back on top. But the Americans were coming on hard. With four minutes left, Plymouth's Thomas Wilson cut off a bobbled pass from Team USA's Brady Skjei and charged in on goal. Skjei hauled down Wilson on a breakaway and bowled him into the goal, injuring Wilson and leaving him unable to take the awarded penalty shot.
Sudbury's Matthew Campagna stepped to the plate. Campagna cut in from centre, drifting swiftly to his right and forcing American goaltender Jared Rutledge to open up. Campagna cut back across in front of the net and with a nifty "Forsberg" dangle, lazily slid the one handed backhand past Rutledge.
With two minutes remaining and two goals down, the Americans pressed harder. Ontario's Matt Finn took a penalty with 50 seconds left. With a powerplay, the Americans pulled the goaltender to put themselves up 6 on 4. Seth Jones teed up a slapshot from the point that Matia Marcantuoni threw himself in front of to block the last true American scoring chance.
Good luck to Teams Canada and Russia tomorrow night. Because they got one incredible opening act.