Nats leave U.S. empty

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- For one night, a tie would have been as good as a win for Canada.

But the world junior squad went out and beat the U.S. anyway, and in doing so, ensured it will play for a medal at the 2006 championship.

Captain Kyle Chipchura's empty-net goal with 33 seconds remaining gave Canada a 3-2 win, first place in Group A with a 4-0 record and a bye to a semi-final on Tuesday.

Everyone's underdogs when the tournament started have put themselves in a fine position to defend their gold medal.

"You can't be the underdog when you are playing in Canada," goalie Justin Pogge said. "We have all the pressure. We have to win. There is nothing taken for granted."

Canada had a scare when Steve Downie, arguably its best forward so far, was hit by a flagrant elbow courtesy of American defenceman Jack Johnson just as Chipchura scored. For some reason, Johnson was assessed a kneeing major and game misconduct. The incident will not be reviewed.

A groggy Downie had to be helped off the ice, but coach Brent Sutter said he expected Downie would be fine.

A tie would have been no good to the Americans, who had to win to avoid a quarter-final match tomorrow night. Hence the pulling of goalie Cory Schneider for an extra attacker with just over one minute left in the third.

"We are not that disappointed," Schneider said with a straight face. "That's probably the best team we will play. I thought it was the ultimate road game, and we will be battle-tested for whomever we play (tomorrow)."

Cam Barker and Dustin Boyd scored within the first seven minutes of the game for Canada. Chris Bourque and Peter Mueller scored for the U.S. to tie the game.

And what a game it was. Before a crowd of 16,083 at the Pacific Coliseum, the hockey rivals put on a whale of a show in their first world junior meeting since the U.S. beat Canada in the 2004 gold-medal final.

Canada broke out of the gates with a level of enthusiasm they had not attained in their previous three matches, and though the crowd has been into this tournament for Canada's games, it also was more enthusiastic last night.

There was to be a crackdown on bad refereeing by the IIHF and Sweden's Marcus Vinnerborg was better than many who went before him. Sensing this, Canada did not show any trepidation in taking the body. Neither did the U.S.

"Two teams came here on a mission and went at each other hard," Chipchura said. "It was a man's game out there. You didn't give up nothing for free and you didn't get nothing for free."

Sutter commended Vinnerborg for using his whistle only when necessary.

"I like to see the game dictated by the players," Sutter said.

"The penalties that were called against us were certainly deserved. I thought the officiating was good, especially if you want to compare it to how it has been."

And were Sutter and the players going to celebrate New Year's Eve last night?

"I'll feed them milk and cookies," Sutter said, deadpan.


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