A furious third period comeback was all for naught as John Carlson scored the overtime winner to give Team USA a 6-5 victory over Canada in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
The victory clinches only the second gold medal for the Americans in tournament history and snaps Canada's streak of five straight gold medals.
After the game Carlson was elated that he was able to come through in the clutch and beat a talented team.
"They're a feisty team, they're a great team and it was unbelievable playing them on New Year's Eve and now here it was just play our game," Carlson told TSN. "We know they're going to get chances and score goals, that's how good they are. We just needed to play our game and tonight it worked out."
When asked the difference between this team and previous American teams that appeared to be stocked with more talent, Team USA head coach Dean Blais gave a tip of his hat to the hosts.
"We played Canadian hockey," Blais stated. "We played gritty."
Canadian netminder Jake Allen, who was pulled in the third period after allowing two quick goals took the loss particularly hard.
"It was the last kick at the can in this tournament," said a somber Allen following the game. "I needed to play a strong game in goal because goaltending is always a huge position in winning five straight before us. I let that down tonight and we came away with a silver medal."
While Allen blamed himself, his teammates were quick to rally to his defence.
"Everyone has bad games, but unfortunately being a goaltender every mistake you make goes up on the scoreboard," said Nazem Kadri. "We can't be pointing fingers at Jake, it's a team game and we all battle through it."
It appeared as though all the momentum was on the Canadian's side after Jordan Eberle, who was named tournament MVP, scored twice with less than three minutes remaining in regulation to force the extra frame. Just over four minutes into overtime Carlson beat Martin Jones for his second of the game setting off wild celebrations by the Americans.
"We battled back the whole game but they just kept coming," Eberle told TSN following the game. "It's not easy. We showed the heart that we had to come back. It's just tough to lose on home ice like this."
For those who were part of last year's Gold medal winning team in Ottawa, the loss was especially difficult.
"We got so close and it didn't happen for us," said returning defenceman Ryan Ellis. "But everyone's sticking together. We're a close team and we've got our heads up high.
"It's tough, especially coming back the way we did. We shot ourselves in the foot a bit."
If a classic encounter on New Year's Eve between the two sides could be considered the appetizer, than this title bout was a full five course meal.
A packed house at the First Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon was treated to a wide open encounter that saw both starting netminders get pulled as the tournament's two top teams battled tooth-and-nail for Junior hockey supremacy.
Luke Adam got Team Canada on the board early in the first period by shoveling a backhand past Mike Lee for his fourth goal of the tournament on a great feed from Jordan Caron.
Team USA then rallied as Chris Kreider beat Jake Allen high stick side to pull the Americans even. Just 36 seconds later Jordan Schroeder gave the Stars and Stripes their first lead by beating Allen for his third of the tournament.
Canada responded immediately when Nazem Kadri found Greg Nemisz who found the back of the net for the first time in the tournament to square things up at two apiece.
The ongoing Canadian theme of undisciplined play throughout the tournament continued when defenceman Alex Pietrangelo drilled Jeremy Morin from behind, picking up a 10-minute misconduct as the opening frame drew to a close.
It was a big loss for Canada who were playing the game without their top shutdown defender in Travis Hamonic who suffered a separated shoulder in the dying moments of the semifinal game against Switzerland. Head coach Willie Desjardins admitted afterwards that they were unable to replace Hamonic's presence in the lineup.
"We missed Hamonic for sure," Desjardins admitted. "He was one of our key defencemen and certainly a guy we went to quite a bit."
Handed the man advantage, the Americans came flying out of the gate to open the second period as Washington Capitals' prospect Carlson beat Allen with a point blast to give Team USA the lead once again.
That advantage was short lived as likely first overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft Taylor Hall responded with his sixth of the tournament to chase Lee from the American net.
Tied at three Brandon Kozun had a great opportunity to give the Canadians an early third period lead when his shot beat Campbell but not the crossbar to keep things even.
Canada were once again offered an excellent chance to take control when Philip McCrae was penalized for delay of game after flipping the puck over the glass, however the Americans repeatedly killed off scoring chances thanks to stellar netminding by Campbell.
That seemingly sparked the Americans as moments later they broke in on an odd man rush with Jerry D'Amigo firing home his sixth of the tournament.
With the Canadians on their heels, Derek Stepan administered what could have been the kill shot as he pounced a loose puck coughed up by Jake Allen to give the Americans an insurance marker.
The goal chased Allen from the Canadian net. He was replaced by Martin Jones.
That decision by Desjardins was all the inspiration that Canada would need as Eberle then put the team on his shoulders.
If the Edmonton Oilers' prospect built his reputation for being a clutch performer during last year's Gold medal game, he further cemented his position with a pair of goals late in regulation to help Canada rally from two goals down and force overtime.
With just under three minutes remaining Eberle took a feed from Pietrangelo and fired his seventh of the tournament past Campbell to pull the Canadians within one.
Not satisfied there, just over a minute later Eberle pounded home his second of the period and forcing overtime for the second consecutive year in the Gold medal game.
The was Eberle's 14th goal all-time in the tournament, surpassing John Tavares for the Canadian lead.
While the momentum was on the side of the Canadians, Team USA refused to wilt. After Campbell came up with a big save on Pietrangelo, play headed down the other way as Carlson broke in on a three on two and fired home his fourth goal of the tournament to secure the first medal of any colour by the Americans since 2007 and only their second Gold to go along with their victory over Canada in 2004.
Carlson told TSN that he had given his team a pep talk prior to overtime.
"I said 'If you guys were to tell me at the beginning of the tournament that we'd be here right now going into overtime right now for the gold medal, anyone in the locker-room would have taken it,' Carlson said. "So I think the camaraderie really helped and we really pulled together there and squeaked out a win."
The Americans will now have the chance to defend their title on home ice as the tournament shifts to Buffalo next year.
With the loss, Canada falls to 27-6-3 all-time versus the U.S. in the tournament.
Earlier in the day the Swiss were hammered 11-4 by Sweden in the Bronze medal game. Swiss netminder Benjamin Conz was named goaltender of the tournament despite being shelled in the Bronze medal game. Pietrangelo was named defenceman of the tournament. They were joined on the tournament All-Star team by American's Stepan and Carlson along with Canada's Eberle and Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter.