Another loss will spell the end of Canada’s run at the world under-18 hockey championship.
But coach Jesse Wallin came away from his team’s final round-robin game a 5-3 defeat to the powerhouse Americans on Tuesday feeling that his players were ready for the medal round.
“We grew as a team today and that’s what we had to do,” he said. “We have to be that much better for our next game. We can’t hang our heads, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep getting better, keep plugging away and stay the course here.”
Kelowna Rockets defenceman Damon Severson is among the Team Canada players.
The Americans are three-time defending champions at the event and considered favourites again this year, but got all they could handle from Canada.
The turning point came late in the second period, with Canada ahead 2-1, when Kerby Rychel was assessed a penalty for checking from behind. Riley Barber scored on the ensuing power play to give the U.S. some life heading into the third period.
“That was a tough goal to give up for us,” said Wallin.
Quick goals by Seth Jones and Frankie Vatrano in the opening seven minutes of the third period put the Americans ahead for good.
“They just kind of overwhelmed us a little bit,” Wallin said of the Americans. “They turned it up a notch and we kind of got away from the details of our game.”
Matt Grzelcyk and Matt Lane, into an empty net, also scored for the U.S. (4-0), which got 26 saves from Collin Olson.
Hunter Shinkaruk, Matt Dumba and Ryan Pulock replied for Canada (2-2). Matt Murray had a strong game and finished with 35 saves, including a first-period penalty shot from Lane.
The U.S. finished on top of Group A and earned a bye directly into the semifinals while Canada drew a quarter-final game with Russia on Thursday.
However, the two teams could face one another again in the medal round. If that ends up happening, Wallin believes his team will be stronger for having already shown it can play with the U.S.
“The game was right there for us,” he said. “It should give us some confidence. We’ve got to get through the Russians here next, but if we do that then we’ve got a crack at (the U.S.) again.
“I think we can take them if we get another crack at them.”
Canada is looking to win its first gold medal at the tournament since 2008.