Any time Canada and the United States meet at the world juniors, there's a heightened sense of importance to the game - and that even goes for the preliminary round. Make it the gold medal final with everything on the line, throw in the recent track record and long-standing rivalry between these two teams and it seems fans are in for another thrilling night of entertainment in Saskatoon.
You can see the gold medal game Tuesday night on TSN, TSN HD, and TSN.ca beginning at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.
Just a few days ago, on New Year's Eve, with first place in Group A on the line, Canada scored a comeback victory over the U.S., winning 5-4 in a dramatic shootout to clinch a bye into the semifinals of the world junior hockey championship. It was the highlight of the tournament thus far, and no doubt had many fans hoping for a rematch later in the proceedings.
They got their wish.
Thanks to a 5-2 upset victory over Sweden, the U.S. will indeed get another crack at the Canadians, this time for world junior hockey supremacy.
The Canucks, who beat Switzerland to lock down their spot in the final, are looking for a record sixth straight championship, but there a few potential obstacles in the way of that prize.
First of all, the last time these two countries faced off in the championship game of this tournament was 2004. The winner? The U.S.A., with a 4-3 win to claim that year's tourney in Helsinki, Finland.
It was the Americans' first world junior title, and it came at the expense of the boys in red and white.
In addition to that historical tidbit, there are roster issues as well. Canadian defenceman Travis Hamonic will miss the final as he is out 6-8 weeks with a shoulder separation.
"It's a potentially devastating loss," says TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie. "Team Canada loses a guy that can hammer the puck from the point on their power play. They also lose a penalty killer and they lose one of their shut-down defencemen. It's an absolutely huge loss for Team Canada, and they're a little thin on the blue line to begin with."
In the New Year's eve game, the Canadians were 0-for-6 on the power play and gave up two short-handed goals against the U.S. The Americans' penalty kill has been an important tool in their success thus far.
"It's a big-time weapon," says McKenzie. "They've got all the elements that go with penalty killing and speed is certainly one of them."
In other words, while Team Canada obviously has a very solid shot at winning this game, they have quite the challenge in front of them in order to claim that sixth straight gold, something that could make this game an interesting one for fans of hockey after a few less-than-thrilling blowouts earlier in the tournament.
"This American team is coming in on a real high. They've got speed, they've got a lot of confidence. They've got a little bit of a thick skin that they built up," McKenzie says. "They want redemption, they want a chance to be able to get a lead on Canada this time and shut it down.
"This is going to be very interesting," says McKenzie. "Because Canada is kind of wobbling into the gold medal game, and the Americans are flying."
The Canadians are also the favourites, meaning the Americans can savour the underdog role and try to use it to their mental advantage; it's their mission to knock the Canadians off the throne.
"Nobody really expects us to win because Canada has won five years in a row, so you have to tip your hats to them," said forward Jason Zucker after the win over Sweden. "We're going to go out there and give it our best and hopefully win a gold medal."
There's certainly no shortage of history - long-term or shot - between the two teams, and that has hockey fans on both sides of the border fired up about Tuesday's match-up.
Playing in Ottawa last year, the U.S. raced to a 3-0 lead before John Tavares led a Canadian comeback with a hat-trick and an eventual 7-4 victory. The game, considered one of the best round-robin games in tournament history, is also remembered for Dustin Tokarski's point-blank glove save on American Colin Wilson.
At the 2007 tournament, Canada and the USA played a dramatic semi-final game that was extended to a seven-round shootout. Behind Carey Price's steady goaltending and Jonathan Toews' three shootout markers, Canada captured a 2-1 victory to advance to the gold medal game. The Canadians went on to win the title by beating Russia 4-2.
Then there's that infamous 2004 game. Facing a Canadian team that featured Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, and Brent Seabrook, the Americans came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in third period. With less than six minutes to play, a Patrick O'Sullivan shot bounced off Braydon Coburn's skate and past Fleury, who had come out to play the puck. The goal stood up to give the U.S. their first and only World Junior gold medal in a 4-3 win.
Canada and the U.S. have met five times total in international finals since 1980. Here are the results:
1991 Canada Cup
The Canadians beat the U.S. in a two-game sweep (4-1 and 4-2) in the final, held in Montreal and Hamilton. Canada's leading scorer in that tournament was a 30-year-old by the name of Wayne Gretzky (Brett Hull and Mike Modano were the top two American scorers). Steve Larmer scored the winner for Canada on a short-handed breakaway in Game 2.
1996 World Cup
This tournament, which replaced the Canada Cup, saw the best-of-three final pushed to a rubber match. Tony Amonte topped a late rally for the Americans, scoring the game-winning goal as they claimed a 5-2 victory. Goaltender Mike Richter was named tournament MVP after shutting the door.
1997 World Junior Hockey Championship
Winner: Canada *
* Mike Babcock, head coach
2002 Winter Olympics
With a star-studded lineup, the Canadians dropped the Americans 5-2 in the final, bringing home their first hockey gold in fifty years as ten million Canadians watched on television. Joe Sakic was named the tournament MVP.
2004 World Junior Championship