USA’s undefeated run snapped by Canada

Jan. 04, 2011, 5:17 p.m. (ET)

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The 2010 IIHF Under 20 World Championship was a tournament about hope and promise for Team USA. By mixing a team of seasoned tournament veterans with talented newcomers, many considered Team USA to be the pre-tournament favorite.

And up until Monday night, Team USA, the tournament’s defending champion, had been going according to plan. The Americans were undefeated in its first four games before they lost, 4-1, to the Canadians in the semifinals.

Now, a U.S. team that hoped to be preparing for the gold-medal game on Wednesday evening must turn its attention to a bronze-medal matinee matchup with Team Sweden. The Swedes lost to Russia, 4-3 in a shootout, Monday.

If the Americans win the bronze, it will mark the first time a U.S. team has earned a medal on home soil. This is the fifth time the United States has played host to the tournament.

Sweden, which has earned three medals (two silver and a bronze) in the last three tournaments, will be a formidable opponent. Ripe with speed, the Swedes won what was known as the “Group of Death” in the round robin and were less than two minutes away from victory in Monday’s semifinal when Russia tied the game and forced the shootout.

For Team USA coach Keith Allain and his team, though, there won’t be any head hanging. They’ll be out to prove that the expectations placed on this American club when the tournament began were warranted.

“One of the things I said to the team (after the game) is as bad as we feel right now, the beauty of it is we do have an opportunity to play another game and let people see how good we are,” Allain said. “We’ll appeal to (the player’s) pride. We’ll let them mourn tonight’s game and try to have an upbeat practice tomorrow and move forward as a hockey team.”

Still, it won’t be easy to look forward so quickly.

Team USA thought it had a good shot against the Canadians, a team that had its share of hurdles to cross before it reached the semifinals against the Americans. While Canada was gaining solid experience in the “Group of Death” — which also included their finals opponent, Russia — the U.S. was eking out victories in a weaker bracket to enter the semis with four victories, one in overtime.

From the get-go, though, Canada outplayed, outhustled and generally outworked the Americans. They did so not through the typical finesse play that many are accustomed to seeing from the Canadians. Rather, Canada packed the neutral zone, hit the Americans every chance they got and waited for the Americans to make a mistake.

According to Canada’s coach Dave Cameron, that was all according to the game plan.

“One of the things you do as a coach is that there are different systems and you have to adapt that system to your team,” Cameron said. “It happens that the best hockey players in Canada right now are big strong power forwards. That’s what we devised our game plan around.

“I challenged my team to play a certain way and my team accepted that challenge and executed that game plan.”

The U.S., on the other hand, obliged with a number of mistakes that led to Canada taking control. Early in the first, the Canadians laid the body inside the zone to force a turnover and then quickly got the puck to Canadian forward Curtis Hamilton who got off an original shot and then poked home his rebound just 2:38 into the game to give Canada a 1-0 lead.

Later in the period, the U.S. once again got punished for a mistake when the Canadians caught the Americans in a line change. Quinton Howard finished off a Brett Connolly pass with 6:06 left in the first for a 2-0 lead.

That was all the Canadians would need. The U.S. simply never got its offense going. It wasn’t until the Canadians were ahead 4-0 that Team USA got on the board. Chris Brown’s goal with 10:23 remaining closed the scoring on the night, one of the few glimmers of hope for the Americans, and accounted for the 4-1 final.

“I don't know what it was,’’ U.S. captain John Ramage, a defenseman and a member of the gold-medal team from 2010, told Canada’s sports network, TSN. “We knew exactly what they were going to bring tonight and we didn't match it.

“We didn't compete with them,’’ added Ramage, the son of former NHL player, Rob Ramage, “and we never gave ourselves a chance.’’

Now the Canadians will be going for their 16th gold medal since the tournament began in 1977.

“It’s disappointing,” Allain said. “Individually our guys were working hard but collectively our team game wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Jim Connelly is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.