By Tina Comeau
When the Canada West and the USA teams skated onto the ice in Barrington for a pre-tournament game just over a week ago, neither team knew if – but they certainly hoped – that they would be playing gold at the World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth on Nov. 11.
But considering that in the history of the tournament these are the only two teams to have won the gold medal in the past, it wasn’t beyond the realm of expectation that this could be the ultimate match-up.
That Nov. 3 game in Barrington had to be decided by a shoot out, with Canada West emerging the victor with a 4-3 win.
As for the outcome of the gold medal game that gets underway at 7:30 p.m., it is what everyone is waiting to see.
And none more so than the teams themselves, each of whom will be looking to break a significant tie at the World Junior A Challenge. In the past six tournaments both teams have each won the gold medal three times, and so both are on the hunt for that fourth gold to one up the other team.
Canada West won the tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2011, while the Americans were gold medalists in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Both teams went undefeated in the preliminary round of the World Challenge. Canada West defeated the Czech Republic 7-0 and had a 4-3 overtime win against Russia, giving it a bye to the semi-finals.
USA opened its tournament with a 9-1 win over Canada East and followed that up with a 4-3 win over Switzerland, giving it its bye to the semi-finals.
Interviewed after Friday night’s 1-0 semi-final win over Canada East, Canada West head coach Dean Brockman said going undefeated in the tournament with the group of kids that had been selected for the West roster was a pretty special feeling for him and his team.
He said playing in a Canada-versus-Canada semi-final to earn a spot in the gold medal game is part of what makes the game of hockey so great in this country. He said Canada West had the advantage going into the game because it was more rested in comparison to Canada East’s schedule, but, he said, you wouldn’t have known that on the ice as he credited both teams with a solid effort in a tight game.
“I have to give them a lot of credit because they were well prepared and well coached and they gave what they had,” Brockman said. “Certainly I was proud of our guys because they preserved. There were some lucky bounces and sometimes that’s what it’s going to take. You’ve got a bunch of elite players out there on both sides of the ice. We prepared our guys for a tight game because it’s the semi finals and certainly we knew it wasn’t going to be a blow out.”
Brett Larson is the head coach of Team USA. The Yarmouth Vanguard first met up with Larson on the first day the team arrived in Yarmouth on Nov. 1. That day he commented about the team’s disappointment last year to have finished with the bronze medal at the world challenge in Langley, B.C. Therefore, he said, the team is very excited to be playing for gold.
“We came up here with one purpose and that was to play for a gold medal,” he interviewed after the team’s semi-final win over Switzerland on Friday evening. “We wanted to be in that gold medal game. Anything less than playing in that game would have been a huge disappointment for us.”
Larson said coming into the tournament they hadn’t predicted that they would have gone undefeated in the preliminary round to earn a bye to the semi-final.
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“In this tournament anything can happen. It’s good teams up here. We just tried to focus the game the right way. Playing it hard, playing it fast, playing to our strengths and it’s all cliché but try to win one game at a time,” he said.
And while the team won it’s semi-final game by a score of 7-4, the score on paper doesn’t quite reflect what happened on the ice, that being a comeback by the Swiss team in the third period after the USA had ended the second period with a 6-1 lead.
Asked if he was nervous during that third period, Larson said absolutely. So what changed in the third period, aside from the fact that Team USA has switched goaltenders? Larson said their discipline fell somewhat off the rails.
“We talk about discipline as a group and we got off our game plan. We got a little undisciplined and it cost us,” he said, adding it gives the team a valuable lesson heading into the gold medal game. “There are going to be times when the game is feeling good. There are going to be times when the game starts to feel hard. You’ve got to keep your composure and good discipline through those moments. We lost a little discipline at times in the semi-final and the Swiss took advantage of it.”
Asked about playing in front of what is expected to be a largely pro-Canadian crowd at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth, Larson says he and his team are looking forward to it.
“Playing a Canadian team in Canada, it doesn’t get any tougher than that. Also, it doesn’t get any more fun than that,” he said. “That’s a huge challenge, I guess that’s why these kids are in tournaments like this, to get to these situations where they are really challenged.”
He said having the crowd behind Canada West will be a good atmosphere for that team, “But obviously we’ve just got to play the game on the ice and you can’t worry about what’s happening in the stands.”
But if the hockey fans are anything like they’ve been throughout the week, there will be cheers coming from the stands for both teams. No team has gone through this tournament without having crowd support behind them.
About the support that all of the teams have received, and the effort that has gone in from the people of Yarmouth to host this international hockey competition, Canada West’s head coach can’t say enough good things.
“I’m pretty speechless on the people around here. They are very, very special people,” said Brockman. “(Yarmouth) is a very hidden secret in the world, There are so many friendly people, so many volunteers working so hard and we just really appreciate their efforts. Our players, our staff, everybody has been treated so well, it’s just an amazing experience, one that will last me many, many years, if not a lifetime.”
The gold medal game is being broadcast live on TSN2 on Sunday night. However, not all of the attention at the Mariners Centre on Sunday has been on hockey. This being Nov. 11, immediately following Saturday night’s bronze medal game, arena staff starting covering the ice surface with insulated flooring in preparation for Remembrance Day ceremonies that were held at the arena on Sunday morning.
And as a tweet that went out on Twitter from Hockey Canada’s World Junior A Challenge website stated, “Today we remember that hockey is just a game, and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”