BONNYVILLE, Alta. – Isaac Johnson scored the game-winning goal late in the first period to give the United States a 3-1 win over Canada East in the preliminary-round finale Tuesday at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge.
The win left all three teams in Group B – the Americans, Canadians and Czechs – with identical 1-1 records. The first tiebreaker (goal differential) eliminated the Czech Republic, and the second (most goals scored) put Canada East in first place, and with it a bye to the semifinals.
Bobby Dow (Ottawa, Ont./Kemptville, CCHL) had the lone goal for the Canadians, who will face the winner of the Czech Republic-Canada West quarter-final in the semis on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. MT).
East goaltender Stefano Cantali (Montreal, Que./Longueuil, LHJQ) stole the show, finishing with a tournament-high 41 saves in a losing cause, including multiple point-blank glove stops in the third period.
The Americans struck first on the power play when Nick Swaney gathered in a feed from Blake Lizotte in the high slot before rifling a wrist shot past the blocker of Cantali just 7:49 in.
Dow pulled Canada East even less than six minutes later, stepping out from behind the net and going to the backhand to beat U.S. netminder Dayton Rasmussen, but Johnson gave the Americans back the lead for good at 17:59, jamming a loose puck under Cantali.
A scoreless second period was due in large part to the Canadian goaltender, who made 13 of his 41 stops in the middle frame, including on a pair of early-period power-play opportunities.
Knowing they needed to win by at least three goals to leapfrog the Canadians into first in the group, the Americans got one closer with 4:29 left when Collin Adams chipped a backhand over Cantali, but that would be it for scoring.
It’s the first time since 2011 that Canada East has won its preliminary-round group; that was also the last time the easterners reached the gold medal game at the tournament.
The Americans are right back to action on Wednesday afternoon, taking on the Czech Republic in the first quarter-final (3:30 p.m. MT). The winner of that game plays Russia in the semifinals Thursday (3:30 p.m. MT).
Bobby Dow, Team Canada East forward, on the difference in a loss to the U.S.:
“I think they just buried on the opportunities. They didn’t get many more chances than we did, good scoring chances, but we just couldn’t capitalize. But it’s nice to get the rest [with the bye to the semifinals] and be able to watch the teams you’re going to play, see what they can do and what you’re going to have to do to beat them.”
Jason Clarke, Team Canada East head coach, on the silver lining of the bye to the semifinals:
“I thought our guys played parts of the game really well. We generated a lot of offence the way we wanted to, but there were some times we did a lot of watching in the defensive zone. There are a few things we need to sharpen up on, but anytime you can finish first [in your group] in a tournament like this and get the day off, it’s really big.”