US beats Canada in OT thriller to advance to U18 gold medal game

By Derek O'Brien

In the annals of great Canada-USA hockey games over the years, the semifinal at the 2011 IIHF U20 World Championship may not rank in the same category as the 1996 World Cup Final or the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game. But those who watched it in the small German town of Crimmitschau will surely never forget it.

The 1,376 fans in attendance, many of whom were Canadian and American nationals living in Europe, experienced a see-saw of emotions that ended in euphoria for some and agony for others when Tyler Biggs, one of the top-ranked players for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, scored in overtime. His goal sent he and his US teammates into the gold-medal game against Sweden, while Canada will face Russia for bronze.

As was to be expected, it was a hard-hitting game right from the start, with the Americans running into early penalty trouble when captain Robbie Russo was sent off for tripping. Then, while killing that penalty, the USA’s Reid Boucher cleared the puck over the glass to give Canada a five-on-three advantage. Canada worked the puck around the perimeter before Ryan Murphy fired a shot from the point that Brett Ritchie deflected in for the first goal of the game.

Canada got one more power-play in the period and held the edge in play, but the US tied the game when J.T. Miller capitalized on a turnover at the blueline and beat Malcom Subban between the legs.

If they were outplayed in the first, the Americans pushed back in the second period in a big way, firing 21 shots on the Canadian goal. Subban played his best hockey of the game this period, and the Canadian penalty-killing unit did a good job as they killed off three penalties, including a five-on-three for 1:35. The US didn’t score until late in the period, when Miller fed a pass from behind the net out to Boucher, who snapped the puck inside the left post to give the Americans their first lead of the game.

Entering the third, it was anybody’s game. The USA led 2-1, but the shots were even and Canada was just a single shot away from evening the score as well. Then Rocco Grimaldi, perhaps the US team’s most dangerous offensive weapon, was sent off for hooking at 5:53, and the game changed drastically.

But instead of Canada getting back to even, the US scored two short-handed goals, giving them a commanding 4-1 lead with 12:44 remaining.

The first goal was a shot fired by US penalty-killer Zach Larraza from the right wing under the crossbar. The next goal, 33 seconds later, was a weak shot from the point by Boucher that snuck through the pads of Subban. 

In the pressbox, after the second goal, Canada assistant coach Ron Tugnutt suggested to the rest of the staff to change the goaltender, but this didn’t happen.

The Americans now seemed to be in total control of the game and the Canadians were reeling. Subban seemed to have trouble handling several of the shots he faced, causing Tugnutt to bury his face in his hands. When Tyler Biggs was sent off for roughing, not many American fans worried, as they had just witnessed their team score twice while short-handed.

But Brett Ritchie cut the lead to 4-2 with his second power play goal of the game, finding a loose puck in his familiar spot in the slot. The Canadians seemed to get some life, and it appeared they had cut the lead to a single goal moments later, but a pinball shot deflected into the net directly off of the referee and so it was disallowed.

Canada pulled Subban with three minutes remaining and started pressing hard. Cole Bardeau tried to relieve the pressure by icing the puck, but instead his shot sailed out of play and, for the second time in the hockey game, the US was penalized for delaying the game.

With 1:35 remaining, Ryan Murray sent a shot from the point that changed direction and beat John Gibson to make it a 4-3 game. Suddenly, the Canadian fans in the arena were buzzing and the Americans were nervous.

Sensing his team was back on its heels, US coach Ron Rolston called his timeout to help his regain its composure. But when the puck dropped, Canada was right back to the attack, and it was Mark Scheifele, parked at the side of the net, who tied the game. His first shot, hit the goalpost, but he regained the puck and, with Gibson down and out, had a wide open net to put the rebound into with 51 seconds remaining. Scheifele was mobbed by his teammates and the building was jumping.

In the overtime period, there was some back and forth action. Mark McNeill had two glorious chances for Canada but twice fired the puck wide. One chance was on a rush down the right wing, and the second came when he was parked at the side of the goal and beat Gibson with a quick shot but missed the far post. Grimaldi had a chance for the Americans but his shot was deflected away by Subban’s blocker.

We had a pretty good comeback there,” Scheifele said after the game. “We were able to tie the game up and get into overtime. We were going hard, we had a couple of good chances in overtime, had a wide-open cage there but it didn’t go in."

About four minutes into the extra period, defenseman Ryan Murphy jumped into the rush for Canada and fired a shot that Gibson turned away, and the Americans came storming back. With Murphy caught out of position, Biggs made no mistake with his shot to end the overtime thriller.

When it’s four-on-four, any time you get a ‘d’ back there, you want to take the opportunity, but I picked up my head and I saw that he was back, you know, they’re a team with defence that like to slide back, so you’ve got to shoot the puck any chance you’ve got,” Biggs said of taking advantage of the rushing Canadian defensemen.

I was just trying to get it on net and I was fortunate that it went in.”

And what did he think about beating Canada? “It definitely doesn’t hurt at all. They’re supposed to be our rival and any time you can beat them in big games, it’s special, especially when it’s a battle like that.”

The US victory sets up a re-match of the 2010 final. Earlier in the day, Sweden beat Russia 3-1 to advance to the gold-medal game.

That one was tied 1-1 with under 15 minutes to play when Sweden‘s Gustav Bjorklund converted on a rebound after it had hit the mask of Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilievsky. The outraged Russian team thought that play should have been stopped when the puck hit Vasilievsky’s mask, and they seemed to come unglued at that point. Nail Yakupov, a top prospect for the 2012 Draft, ran Swedish goaltender Niklas Lundstrom, cutting the goaltender’s lip. The game nearly degenerated into a brawl, and Sweden had to be careful not to lose anybody for the gold medal game.

We told all our guys that we’ve gotta be careful,” Sweden’s Mika Zibanejad said about the situation. “They were getting pretty mad because they were going to lose and we didn’t want to lose anybody for the next game.”

Sweden’s Jeremy Boyce-Rittervall, who scored Sweden’s first goal of the game, was asked before the Canada-USA game who he’d prefer to face in the final. “Well we beat Canada twice already so we want America more. We wanna beat them.”

Well, Jeremy, you have them.