Wow! That was fun!!
Team USA won the Gold Medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships last night in Saskatoon, 6-5 over five-time defending-champ Canada on defenseman John Carlson's overtime goal. And what a thrilling, exciting, emotional, and just plain fun contest it was.
Back and forth on the scoreboard. Back and forth chances on the ice. Hard hitting. Passionate. Intense. Complete with a tremendous rally by Canada which received a pair of goals from Jordan Eberle in the closing minutes to make a 5-3 game 5-5 as the home-town fans erupted in ear-splitting delerium.
And then it all is decided in overtime. Both teams with chances during the 4-on-4. Finally Carlson hops up to not only join a rush, but lead it, from his defense position, creating an odd-man advantage. His left wing shot, after a nifty shoulder fake, is true blue.
Make that, true Red, White, and Blue.
Was it a perfectly-played game? Far from it. The goaltending on both sides left much to be desired, as did commitment to defensive play. But who cares? This was a really, really fun game to watch between a pair of very talented programs. No losers here. Not the ones who earned gold. And not the ones who wear silver today, either. And most definitely not those who were fortunate enough to watch the final act of this great tournament.
As for the Rangers' prospects I touted yesterday, well, they all delivered for Team USA.
Chris Kreider, the Rangers' first round pick in 2009, put the US on the board by scoring his sixth goal of the tourny in the opening period, a quick rising shot from the left circle off a rush. Exactly the type of goal the Rangers are not scoring enough of at the NHL level these days. Kreider's speed is well-advertised, and was on display in full last night. What is not as advertised is his passion, and he showed plenty of it on the big stage last night.
Derek Stepan, a secound rounder from 2008 who captained Team USA, was among the best players in the entire tournament, leading all scorers with 14 points and 10 assists. A real heart-and-soul player, with a solid yet-not-dynamic skill set, Stepan played big in the biggest game of the tourny last night. He took the big faceoffs, logged major time on both specialty teams, and when the game was tied 3-3 in the third period Stepan assisted on the go-ahead score and then tallied the goal that put the US up 5-3 moments later.
Not surprisingly Stepan took home much hardware following the game, voted to the all-tourny team, named Team USA's Player of the Game. But most importantly he took home a gold medal, and was the first to touch the tournament trophy.
And Ryan Bourque, son of Hall-of-Famer Ray and the Rangers' third round pick in 2009, played an integral part in last night's win, as well. In fact Bourque, who assisted on Team USA's second goal of the game and was a real sparkplug on the forecheck all night, nearly scored the game-winner off a slick move into the high slot two minutes before Carlson's memorable goal.
All in all a great night for hockey's future, and not just because I'm from the United States and Team USA grabbed the gold. It was great theater, and a great selling point for hockey, no matter the winner or loser, though I will say that I agree with NHL Network analyst Dave Starman who said that this game and tournament is the type to inspire American youngsters to play this great game of hockey. Maybe that's why a US victory was more important than a Canadian one. Perhaps.
And speaking of Starman, great work my friend. Not only last night, but throughout the entire 2010 World Junior Championships.
Just like the teams you covered on the ice.
Congrats Team Canada.
And congrats Team USA. 2010 WJC Gold Medal winners!