In the preliminary round’s most hotly anticipated matchup, Canada defeated the U.S 5-3 to capture first place in Group A on New Year’s Eve in Montréal.
Canada now moves on to Toronto to take on the fourth-place team in Group B in Friday’s quarter-finals. Finishing second, the Americans will face the third-place team in Group B here at the Bell Centre.
It might not replace the 3-3 classic between the Montréal Canadiens and Central Red Army in 1975 as the best New Year’s Eve game ever played in this city, but it was a thriller and the fans got their money’s worth — especially at the end.
“You’ve got to give the Americans credit,” said Lazar of the final flurry, where the teams got two goals apiece in just 2:36. “They didn’t go away and they didn’t roll over and die throughout the game. They made it quite interesting at the end. I was freaking out a little bit.”
Max Domi had two goals for Canada, while Sam Reinhart added a single and two assists, and Josh Morrissey and Lazar also scored.
Dylan Larkin scored twice for the Americans and Anthony DeAngelo potted a single for the United States. Sonny Milano had a pair of helpers.
Canadian goalie Eric Comrie and the U.S.’s Thatcher Demko both brought their A-game for this showdown between the North American archrivals. Canada outshot the U.S. 43-28 and deserved to celebrate the victory.
“That atmosphere in Montréal was outstanding,” U.S. head coach Mark Osiecki said regarding the audience of 18,295. “They’ve treated our team incredibly well and this kind of environment was fun to play in.”
The game was widely billed as a clash between Canada’s Connor McDavid and the U.S.’s Jack Eichel, the two talented centres who are vying to be selected first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Overall, Eichel was more involved in the play, notching one assist, but McDavid had his moments, making a beautiful rush that led to the 3-1 goal in the third period.
“He’s got a lot of size, speed, and skill,” McDavid said of Eichel. “He did a lot of good stuff out there.”
“We didn’t do enough to get the win,” said Eichel. “So we can learn from it and get better. We all can get better.”
Domi, however, was the true emotional and offensive sparkplug for the Canadians, as he has been on several occasions at these World Juniors. The crowd chanted the London Knights captain’s name when he was chosen as Canada’s player of the game.
“That was awesome,” said Domi. “It was really cool for sure. Every game’s been outstanding with the support we’ve gotten from the Montréal Canadiens fans, so merci beaucoup to all those fans out there.”
It was easy to sense this was a grudge match, with the U.S.’s Tyler Motte and Canada’s Anthony Duclair shoving each other at the opening faceoff.
“It’s two good teams out there,” said Canadian defenceman Darnell Nurse. “I don’t think we liked each other too much. Right off the bat, there was a lot of intensity and emotion. It was nice to come out on the right side of it.”
The Eichel line stormed the Canadian net within the first 30 seconds, and the American captain barely failed to score as the net was dislodged. Three minutes later, Reinhart and Domi tested Demko at opposite posts but both failed to jam it home.
It was a physical and intense affair. Midway through the first, the partisan crowd exploded when Morrissey toppled an onrushing Milano with a clean shoulder-to-shoulder check. Domi was chirping at the American bench much in the style of his NHL enforcer father, Tie Domi.
For much of the second period, Canada took the game over – emotionally and possession-wise.
Early in the second period, the Reinhart line continued to push hard around the American net. When blueliner Darnell Nurse jumped through the U.S. defence and got in cold, Demko made a great blocker save.
On Canada’s first goal, Domi exploded down left wing, pulling a drop-and-drag move on Brandon Carlo, and firing it on goal. Reinhart collected the rebound and dished it to Domi, who shot it over Demko’s right pad at 7:07.
“He was in the right spot,” said Reinhart. “It was a good play by him to start it off. It just came to me in front of the net and I got it over to him.”
With Dylan Larkin off for high-sticking on Canada’s Robby Fabbri, Canada made it 2-0 when Morrissey unleashed a howitzer from the top of the right faceoff circle at 10:11.
But although Domi was playing like a man possessed, it wasn’t curtains for the Americans just yet.
The U.S. struck back at 13:12 of the second period with a power play goal of their own – partially masterminded by Eichel. He stickhandled along the Canadian blue line and found Milano with a deft pass. Milano went cross-ice to DeAngelo, who put it high into the gaping cage.
Tempers flared, skirmishes broke out in front of the benches, and Nurse was sent off for roughing with 3:47 left in the period.
Canada went up 3-1 halfway through the third. McDavid zoomed down the left side, getting around blueliner Zach Werenski, and fired a shot off Demko’s left shoulder. Lazar charged into the American crease and the puck went off his body and over the line. The goal was video-reviewed and ruled good.
“What a drive by Connor!” said Lazar. “He opened it up right there. They don’t ask how, right? I just drove to the net. They’re not going to be pretty all the time.”
With five minutes left in the third, the fans sang “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors, and – especially if you were cheering for Canada – it was hard to disagree with the assertion that the good old hockey game is the best game you can name.
But hold on. The U.S. still had life. Milano capitalized on a turnover near the Canadian blue line, sending it to Hudson Fasching. He stickhandled into the slot and found a wide-open Larkin by the post for a nice goal with 2:34 left.
With Demko pulled for the extra attacker, Reinhart stole the puck from DeAngelo in the U.S. zone and deposited it into the empty net with 55 seconds left.
Like a classic monster in a sci-fi movie, the Americans just refused to go away quietly. Remarkably, 13 seconds later, Larkin came down the right side and beat Comrie high to the glove to make it 4-3.
The Americans couldn’t complete their comeback, though. Reinhart set up Domi for one more empty-netter with five seconds left. Ecstasy reigned in Québec’s biggest city.
“We’ve been harping on that resiliency since Day One,” said Eichel. “It was good to see it. Obviously it wasn’t enough. We’ll be ready for our game on Friday.”
“We really established our identity right off the bat,” Domi said. “We were playing hard every shift. We got away from it for about five minutes, but for the most part we stuck to the game plan. It worked out for us. We’re going to take that, put it in our back pocket and get ready to go for the real thing here.”
This was the seventh time Canada has defeated the U.S. on New Year’s Eve in 10 all-time World Junior meetings.
IHLC: With the victory, Canada wins their 17th International Hockey Lineal Championship, their first since August 2013, and first at the World Juniors since the 2011 Group Round. The win marks the 17th IHLC tilt between these border rivals in their remarkable history, improving Canada’s record to 10-6-1, and marking their first meeting since Canada’s last reign last summer. In New Year’s Eve IHLC games, Canada now improves to 4-1 all-time, dating back to 1998. Canada will now carry the IHLC to Toronto into the medal round, looking to capture their first Gold Medal since 2009.
18:59 – PEN – Ritchie, charging
27:07 – GOAL – Domi (Reinhart)
29:08 – PEN – Larkin, high sticking
30:11 – PP GOAL – Morrissey (Fabbri, Petan)
32:23 – PEN – Duclair, tripping
33:12 – PP GOAL – DeAngelo (Eichel, Milano)
36:13 – PEN – Nurse, roughing
40:00 – PEN – Wood, slashing
50:01 – GOAL – Lazar (McDavid)
57:26 – GOAL – Larkin (Fasching, Milano)
59:06 – EN GOAL – Reinhart
59:18 – GOAL – Larkin (Hanifin)
59:56 – EN GOAL – Domi (Reinhart)
W: Comrie (25-28)
L: Demko (40-43)
SHOTS ON GOAL
17+12+14 = 43
13+8+7 = 28
Goaltenders: Eric Comrie, Zachary Fucale. Defence: Madison Bowey, Dillon Heatherington, Joe Hicketts, Samuel Morin, Josh Morrissey, Darnell Nurse, Shea Theodore. Forwards: Lawson Crouse, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Robby Fabbri, Frédérik Gauthier, Curtis Lazar (C), Connor McDavid (A), Nick Paul, Nic Petan, Brayden Point, Sam Reinhart (A), Nick Ritchie, Jake Virtanen.
Goaltenders: Thatcher Demko, Brandon Halverson. Defence: Will Butcher (A), Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, Anthony DeAngelo, Noah Hanifin, Ian McCoshen, Zach Werenski. Forwards: J.T. Compher, Chase De Leo, Jack Eichel (C), Hudson Fasching, John Hayden (A), Dylan Larkin, Anthony Louis, Auston Matthews, Sonny Milano, Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, Alex Tuch, Miles Wood.