Perhaps Canadian defenceman Dante Fabbro had the best take on a game that was dominated by the United States in every area of the ice.
"There wasn't a medal handed out tonight and that's the way you've got to look at it," he said. "They haven't won anything yet and neither have we."
Well, no, but after the U.S. dominated Canada in a 3-1 win Saturday that was nowhere nearly as close as the score, the Canadians not only tumbled from first place in the world junior hockey championship's Group B, they can no longer be considered a favourite to win the whole thing. When the action shifts to Montreal's Bell Centre for the medal round on Monday, Canada will just be one of three or four teams with a chance for gold.
The U.S. finished first in Group B with a 4-0 record with Canada second at 3-1. The loss for Canada means it will face the Czech Republic, third-place finishers in Group A, in the quarter-finals on Monday in Montreal.
While the Czechs are not expected to mount much opposition, the Canadians will be without one of their two best defencemen for that game and likely for the rest of the tournament. Philippe Myers sustained a concussion early in the third period when he was knocked into the glass by U.S. forward Luke Kunin and did not return to the game. Kunin received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct for the hit, although he did not appear to be aiming for Myers's head. He could be suspended by IIHF officials for the hit.
"He's concussed," Canadian head coach Dominique Ducharme said of Myers. "His chances of playing the next game are zero. He's doubtful the rest of the tournament. He might be back late in the tournament."
The Americans came out strong at the Air Canada Centre, putting the game away early with two power-play goals and then smothering Canada's own power-play, which had been a force through the preliminary round. The Canadians managed one power-play goal by Thomas Chabot on seven chances and that came on a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the second period.
That goal and the few minutes after it were the only moments in the game that the Canadians consistently took the play to the Americans. What followed showed how much the Americans owned the game. After several good scoring chances by the Canadians, the U.S. mounted a rush and goaltender Connor Ingram made a nice save on U.S. forward Jeremy Bracco, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect. But the Canadians could not clear the puck and the U.S. took control of it. Seconds later, and five minutes after Chabot's goal gave the pro-Canada crowd of 18,584 some hope, Bracco scored to put the U.S. ahead 3-1. The Canadians never seriously threatened the Americans for the second half of the game.
While Canada outshot the U.S. 26-20, that was only because they had more power-play time. The U.S. played a complete game, blocking shots, fore-checking hard in the Canadian zone and getting the puck quickly out of their own zone when Canada dumped it in. It was a hard lesson in how to play a complete hockey game for the Canadians.
"This was our best game as a team, offensively, defensively and especially special teams," said U.S. goaltender Joseph Woll, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick who was thrilled to be playing in the arena he might call home as an NHL player. "It's definitely a really special experience playing here. Even [with] the Canadian fans, it shows you how passionate they are for the game. That's probably the best atmosphere I've ever played in."
Colin White and Jordan Greenway scored the early power-play goals for the U.S., which went two-for-six with a man advantage.
Those goals came in the first three shots on goal for the U.S., but Ingram could not be faulted on either. White's goal came from point-blank range in the slot while Greenway got behind the Canadian defence and had all the time he needed to skate in alone. Ingram was given the start because Carter Hart, who played against Russia and Latvia, did not play well enough to lock down the No. 1 job.
Ducharme declined to say who will start in goal for the quarter-final game. But goal-tending is no longer the critical issue for Canada.
"Our power-play has been doing well but we need to be getting more offence five-on-five," the Canadian head coach said. "I thought our execution was a bit off on a few occasions when we had a chance to shoot and made an extra pass.
"It's one game. We're learning from that, we're growing as a group."