Griffin Ness converted a breakaway 7:35 into overtime, giving the United States a 3-2 semifinal win over Canada West on Saturday night and a place in the gold medal game at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge.
The U.S. will face Russia on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. MT, TSN), one win away from its eighth gold medal, and second in Bonnyville – it claimed the 2016 title in northeastern Alberta.
With the teams going end to end in a non-stop overtime period, Ness took a stretch pass from Jack Malone and raced away from the Canadian defence before beating goaltender Matthew Davis (Calgary, Alta./Spruce Grove, AJHL) past the blocker.
It marked the second time in a week that the two teams required extra time; West earned a 2-1 shootout win in the tournament opener for both last Sunday.
The Americans came out like a house on fire in the semifinal, striking for a pair of goals in the first seven minutes to quiet the pro-Canadian crowd at the R.J. Lalonde Arena.
Josh Nodler got it started at 4:31, cleaning up a loose puck in front after Robert Mastrosimone stickhandled his way to the front of the net, and Ronnie Attard one-timed a cross-ice feed from Bobby Brink past Davis at 6:08.
“Essentially, [our message was] we have a 60-minute game, we have 40 minutes left for them to have an opportunity of a lifetime, and that’s to have a chance to be in a gold medal game in a world championship. We wanted to make sure the guys responded with the right energy, and I think most of our guys were nervous. We let them know that mistakes are going to happen, it’s okay to make mistakes, but we need to make sure we have a 10 out of 10 effort in everything we do.
“We just let them know that we’re not done here, we still haven’t fulfilled what we came here to do and why we’re here for Team Canada West. Ultimately, we made sure we were proud of the effort that they had, and let’s have a short-term memory, let’s regroup together as a staff and as 22 players so we finish this thing right.”
Rick Swan, head coach for Team Canada West, on his message to the team after going down 2-0 and how the team regroups for the bronze medal game
West had its opportunities in the second period, but it took until the 16:40 mark to break through; just seconds after he had the puck roll off his stick on a mini-breakaway down low, Mathieu Gosselin (Quebec City, Que./Merritt, BCHL) banked a shot off U.S. netminder Blake Pietila from behind the net to get the Canadians within one after 40 minutes.
Alexander Campbell (Châteauguay, Que./Victoria, BCHL) needed just 1:49 of the third period to get West even, sneaking behind the American defence and slipping a backhand five-hole on Pietila to make it 2-2.
The teams traded chances the rest of the way, but neither could find the winner in regulation.
The Canadians still have a chance to leave with a medal; they take on the Czech Republic for bronze on Sunday afternoon (12 p.m. MT, TSN).