Team USA claimed gold at the World Junior Championships with an impressive 3-1 win against Sweden. Meanwhile, Canada was dumped out of the tournament in fourth place by falling to Russia 6-5 in OT, failing to win a medal and snapping their streak of 14 consecutive years with hardware.
Honestly, who could have predicted that Canada would stumble out of the tournament as they did? The team appeared to be as formidable as ever early in the tournament, beating the USA 2-1 in their first meeting. However, when the two sides squared off in the semifinals, USA sought redemption. The end result was a surprising one as the United States thrashed Canada by a score of five to one.
USA was off to the title game to oppose Sweden while Canada slumped over to the third place game where they'd take on Russia. Surely Canada would still leave with a medal of some color, right?
Canada fell in overtime to Russia, failing to bring home a medal for the first time since 1998. The game pitted current NHL star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Canada against teammate Nail Yakupov of Russia. Both men played outstanding. Nugent-Hopkins notched a goal and three assists in a losing effort while Yakupov contributed two goals.
Over in the gold medal game, USA was propelled to victory by strong goaltending courtesy of John Gibson and another fine display of special teams. The club exited the tournament with the highest penalty-killing percentage, allowing just three goals over the course of 28 opportunities.
This year's World Junior Championship tournament is a monumental success for the United States. The team rebounded in the best way possible after an extremely disappointing seventh-place finish in 2012. As for Canada, questions will be asked. The team was expected to improve on their third-place finish in 2012. Instead, the team will be scrutinized and have even larger expectations when the tournament returns for its next installment.
Photo courtesy of USA Today.