The cardiac Canadian kids had their hearts broken and world junior gold rush ruined by a deserving United States team in Saskatoon on Tuesday evening.
The Canadian juniors overcame a two-goal deficit late in the third period for the second time in five days against the U.S., but on this occasion the teenagers from south of the border bounced back in overtime to score a 6-5 golden moment of their own.
The intense, rapid-pace, back-and-forth strange game that saw both starting goalies pulled by their coaches ended when U.S. defenceman John Carlson kept the puck on a three-on-one rush to snap in a short-side goal at 4:21 in the extra period.
"I just closed my eyes and let it rip," confessed the 19-year-old Carlson, who played three games for the Washington Capitals earlier this season. "I think I got a little lucky."
Although Canada had momentum on its side after the clutch goal magician known as Jordan Eberle scored twice in the final 2:49 of regulation time, the extra open ice made available by the four-on-four format in overtime favoured the speedy Americans.
Canada was done in by that swiftness when 17-year-old U.S. backup goalie Jack Campbell made a save on Canadian defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. The rebound bounced past three Canadian players, who were caught deep, and sent the U.S. flying the other way.
"We had a chance to win at one end and they came right back and won it at the other end," Canadian forward Brayden Schenn said.
The Americans were gracious in victory. They praised their Canadian opponents for the character they showed in the late-game comeback. U.S. coach Dean Blais went as far as to state that he built his team to have plenty of grit and heart that Canadian teams usually encompass.
"It's no accident Canada has won five gold medals in a row in this tournament," Blais said. "I'm from International Falls, Minn. I know all about the Canadian game.
"I didn't want a bunch of fancy-dancers on my team. I think we showed a lot of grit, we blocked a lot of shots and we back-checked hard."
In ending Canada's run of five straight gold medals, the U.S. also exhibited a penalizing transition game. Canada knew it had to limit its mistakes against the dangerous Americans and get off to a good start.
But after Canada's Luke Adam scored first on a suspect backhand goal that beat a shaky Mike Lee, the U.S. took advantage of a couple Canadian neutral zone miscues to snatch a 2-1 lead on goals from Chris Kreider and Jordan Schroeder.
Greg Nemisz pulled Canada even late in the first period, but then the Canadians suffered another blue-line setback when Pietrangelo was called for a two-minute, checking-from-behind penalty that came with an additional 10-minute misconduct.
'We missed him'
The Canadian juniors already were without blue-liner Travis Hamonic, who separated his left shoulder when a Switzerland player rammed him into the boards from behind in the final minute of Canada's 6-1 semifinal win on Sunday.
"We missed him," Canadian coach Willie Desjardins said. "He was one of our key defencemen and we used him quite a bit."
Carlson scored on the back end of the Pietrangelo minor penalty early in the second period, but again Canada battled back a few shifts later with a fluky goal from Taylor Hall. The Hall goal only was Canada's seventh shot on Lee, so Blais lifted Lee in favour of Campbell.
Desjardins pulled his starter Jake Allen after he mishandled a dump-in that led to the fifth U.S. goal from Derek Stepan, who had set up linemate Jerry D'Amigo two minutes earlier.
Then, Eberle went to work with his late-game magic to send the game into extra time.
"We were a little rattled," said Blais, who didn't want the game to go to a shootout so he encouraged his players to go for it in overtime. Carlson did and the U.S. became the victors for only the second time in tournament history.
"You always want to win the gold medal," Pietrangelo said. "But what we did tonight and what we did on New Year's Eve is remarkable.
"The guys we have in that room will be friendships that I will keep for a lifetime. We showed unbelievable character.
"It's unfortunate what happened. At the same time, we should hold our heads high and be proud of the way we battled."