Canada-USA meaningless, but memorable

Team Canada celebrates their victory over Team USA after a World Junior Hockey Championship match...

Team Canada celebrates their victory over Team USA after a World Junior Hockey Championship match at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., Dec. 31, 2011. (CODIE McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 PM ET

EDMONTON - It was one of the most memorable, meaningless matches you were ever likely to experience.

In the end it made you remember the slogan of the Edmonton-Calgary world junior: "I was there!"

It wasn't supposed to work that way.

Canada had clinched a medal-round spot. The Americans had been reduced to relegation-round humiliation. The sizzle had turned to fizzle.

But that be dammed, the crowd and the players, wouldn't allow it to be anything other than what it was expected to be when the tournament began.

About 98% of the fans showed up wearing Canadian jerseys, about double the percentage which wear Oilers sweaters to your average NHL games. And they were standing, cheering at Stanley Cup playoff volume when Canada took the ice.

They chanted "Let's Go Canada" until Mark Stone scored his fourth game-opening goal in the five games the team played in Edmonton. Stone's seventh goal of the tournament was followed by his set-up of the next one as Canada built up a 2-0 and then 3-0 lead in the first period.

The atmosphere went away for a while but when the Americans out-played Canada in a scoreless second period, everybody was back in their seats for the third remembering how Canada blew a 3-0 lead in the third period in the gold-medal game against the Russians last year when even Don Hay, this year's Canadian coach "turned off the TV and left the house to do something else."

It was a game with a memorable freeze frame when Medicine Hat Tigers' Emerson Etem sent Canadian keeper Scott Wedgewood ass-over-tea-kettle in a race for the puck.

"I needed a new Facebook profile picture," said Wedgewood in anticipation of seeing a photo.

Wedgewood said he had no problem with Etem on the play, although the fans had serious questions about the intent and the new national netminder's health for several seconds there.

The Americans came back to make it 3-1 and 3-2 and that brought the decible level back in the building.

The crowd was standing when the buzzer sounded as the Canadian players leaped over the boards and mobbed Wedgewood as if they'd won gold.

It was memorable how the fans sang O Canada at full volume, like they did during the 2006 playoffs, at the end of the game.

In the end, the Canadian players saluted the crowd and gave their sticks to the fans as they left the ice. It really did feel like a gold-medal finish.

Who knows what's ahead in this unbelievably eventful world junior. Because of the Russians blowing a 3-0 lead to Sweden, a reversal of Canada doing the same to the Russians in that gold-medal game last year, suddenly there's no chance of a Canada-Russia rematch for gold.

If Russia defeats the Czech Republic in Monday's quarter-final in Calgary, it will be Canada-Russia in the semifinal Tuesday in the Saddledome.

Team Canada should be happy the Americans made a game of it, ironically just seconds after the fans started a chant "Rel-e-gation! Rel-e-gation! Rel-e-gation!" aimed at the Americans.

Canada looked to be lacking in composure throughout much of that span when it got to 3-1 and 3-2 but they never let it get to 3-3.

"Whenever you have to deal with a little bit of adversity, a little bit of pressure, it's a good thing," said coach Don Hay, who is now 11-0 at the world junior including his run coaching the team to gold in 1995.

"That game will make us a better team," said Hay.

"When it's 3-2 you really see some things from your players when the game is on the line and how they think the game and if we get into that situation again, we should be ready for it," added Hay.

In the end the humiliated Americans could leave the building feeling better about themselves after the crowd had ridden them and cheered against them unmercifully throughout the tournament.

Jack Campbell, the American goalie who beat Canada in the gold-medal game two years ago in Saskatoon, said he had no problem with the crowd which chanted his name delusively at times.

"When I heard it at the end of this game I couldn't help thinking the crowd was so into it, with all the passion, that it was something to tell my grandchildren. The reality is these fans are unbelievable. It really does have an effect on the hockey game."

Like the fans, he left the building saying "I was there."

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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