It doesn't get any better

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- There have been two famed New Year's Eve games in hockey history.

Before yesterday, there'd been one.

On the 30th anniversary of the famed New Year's Eve game between Red Army and the Montreal Canadiens, a bunch of kids from Canada and the United states gave us another game for the ages.

As one who was in the Montreal Forum that New Year's Eve, I still hold that 3-3 tie to be the greatest hockey game ever played.

As round robin-group play games go at the World Junior, this was as good as it gets.

"I'm old enough. I watched that game. Where were you, Walt?'' Canadian coach Brent Sutter asked U.S. coach Walt Kyle of the 1975 New Year's Eve game after Canada scored a 3-2 empty-net goal win.

"This was a heck of a hockey game. There was a lot of excitement in the building. Every kid on both teams put it on the line. It was tough. This game was the way you want it to be. There has to be a winner and a loser, but that was one of those games where you have to congratulate the loser.''

Kyle, who had to pull his goalie because the Americans had tied Switzerland 2-2 the night before and needed the win, not a tie, to win the bye to the semi-final, said he was proud of his team.

"That was a great game with a lot of battles and a lot of guts. I was proud of the guys. We were down two goals and battled back. That was a tough, tough building. And that's a tough, tough, very well-coached team,'' he said of Sutter's Team Canada.

WASN'T DO OR DIE

Like the New Year's Eve game 30 years ago, it wasn't do or die. The Americans are still in the tournament. They just have to play three games to win gold.

Part of what made this game so special was the fact it featured 20 first-round draft choices in addition to Phil Kessel of the U.S. and Jonathan Toews of Canada, who are the projected No. 1 and No. 2 picks this year.

On Canadian ice it also featured the defending champions in the unusual role of underdogs to the talented Americans.

It was a highly-hyped special game that lived up to every paragraph of pre-game publicity and promotion.

"Everyone talked about this game for months,'' said London Knights' Robbie Schremp, the American who is property of the Edmonton Oilers. "Now we can move on to the rest of the tournament.''

It was one thing to watch it, but to play in it ...

"That was amazing. That was the biggest game of my life,'' said Justin Pogge, the native of Fort McMurray.

The crowd chanted his name.

"It was hard not to hear that,'' he said.

"It was so loud it sent shivers down my spine. It was so easy to play with all that energy in the arena. That was amazing atmosphere with great Canadian pride.''

Captain Canada agreed.

GREAT TO PLAY IN IT

"That was a great game to play in,'' said Kyle Chipchura of Vimy, who scored the winner into the empty net at 19:27 of the third period after Winnipegers Cam Barker and Dustin Boyd gave Canada a 2-0 lead, and Chris Bourque and Peter Mueller brought the U.S. back.

"That was a fun game and a tough game to play out there. There wasn't an inch to spare,'' said Chipchura, who called it "huge'' to proceed to Tuesday's semifinal, avoiding the dreaded sudden-death crossover quarter-final.

Sutter equalled the record of 10 wins coaching Team Canada shared by Dave King and Terry Simpson, only didn't have two losses and two ties like the aforementioned pair, but a 10-0 run heading to the medal round in an attempt to win back-to-back gold. And he said he hopes the first-rate let-'em-play officiating job by Sweden's Marcus Vinnerborg is what all the teams in the tournament get the rest of the way.

"All the calls against us were deserved. The officiating was good tonight, certainly compared to what we have been getting.''

Kyle concurred.

"I thought that was the way the game should be played.

''I don't know, maybe we have too many mothers running hockey,'' he said of tame games and terrible officiating in the tournament before they rang in the new year with this ding, dong dandy.

On the last day of the year, 30 years to the day after arguably the greatest game ever played, they gave us another game to remember for many Decembers.


Photos