OTTAWA - Angelo Esposito was more than willing to take a punch in the head from a blue-chip prospect to help Canada win gold.
At 3:31 of the second period, Esposito collided with Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom and knocked him to the ice. Six-foot-six defenceman Victor Hedman jumped Esposito, got him in a headlock and threw some punches, but the Montreal Junior forward didn't react.
Remarkably, no penalty was called to any player on the play.
"In international hockey, you can't fight," Esposito said after Canada's 5-1 win on Monday. "You don't want to get a stupid penalty and get kicked out of the game.
"He got me in the headlock and he was punching me. I'm surprised he didn't get a penalty because I wasn't reacting. You can't take stupid penalties in a crucial game like this."
Markstrom was bowled over twice by Canadian players when he wandered far out of his crease to play pucks. Hedman was incensed that there were no calls, except one later in that period when Markstrom was fingered for diving.
"It was frustrating," said Hedman, projected to be among the top picks at the NHL draft in June. "They ran over our goalie two times.
"I don't know what rules the referees had but they were not the rules that were there before the tournament. They said you can't touch the goalie, that it's two minutes right away. It's like they changed the rules for this game."
Only 35 seconds after the collision with Markstrom, Esposito won a battle for the puck in the corner, cut toward the net and beat Markstrom with a clever backhand shot to the top corner.
"Deeds (Chris Di Domenico) and Johnny (Tavares) were fighting for puck and I got it and just went to the net," said Esposito. "At the time, you just want to win the game, but now that I have that goal, it feels good."
The crowd of 20,380 at Scotiabank Place booed Hedman each time he touched the puck after the tangle with Esposito, and then did the same to Markstrom after his diving call.
Neither player minded.
"I'm not here to make friends, so it didn't bother me at all," said Markstrom. "It doesn't matter. It was fun to play with this crowd, but we wanted to win the game."
Esposito said his encounter with Markstom was incidental. Canadian centre Cody Hodgson had no apologies either.
"We knew we had to go to the net," said Hodgson. "He got in the way a couple of times, but we couldn't help that."
The Swedes, who lost in overtime to Canada in last year's final in the Czech Republic, breezed through five games to open this tournament and some favoured them to beat Canada.
But they failed to capitalize on four straight power play opportnites in the second period and a 4-on-3 advantage in the third.
"We should have scored some goals, but sometimes you have bounces," said Hedman. "This was that kind of day."
It was a big night for Esposito.
Three years in a row, he had been invited to camp and had been cut each time from teams that went on to win gold. This time, he finally made the team. And he made the most of it, scoring key goals in both a 6-5 semifinal win over Russia and the final against Sweden.
"I came into this camp and I just wanted to be on this team, no matter what role it was," said the Montreal native. "I kept moving up as the days went on.
"I just tried to be the best player I could be. Tonight, it was unbelievable."