There is absolutely no way to sugar coat it - Team USA was by far the best team at the 2008 World Junior 'A' Challenge and they proved it with a commanding 7-1 victory over the 2-time defending champions from Canada West.
It was ugly right from the get go for Canada when the Americans got the first goal on one that netminder Kevin Genoe is going to see in his nightmares for the next few weeks. USA defenceman Lee Moffie fired a long slap shot that would have sailed well high but Genoe opted to play it but failed to snag it cleanly. The puck tipped off the top of his trapper, bounced high and landed directly behind him and wobbled into the net.
USA struck again just 2 minutes later when David Gerths was Johnny-on-the-spot for a rebound and fired it into a gaping net past Genoe.
Canada actually got a moment of life when Notre Dame Hound forward Rylan Schwartz beat Mike Lee in a goal mouth scramble as the puck had settled inches from the goal line behind the Fargo Force goalie.
USA would re-establish their two-goal edge before the end of the opening period thanks to a bad angle goal by eventual tournament MVP Mike Cichy. The Tri-City Storm forward corraled a loose puck, curled behind the net then spun and roofed a shot that fooled Genoe who was yanked unceremoniously with just over 3 minutes left in the period.
Coming into the game Genoe had posted the best goalie stats in the tournament and back up Andrew Bodnarchuk hadn't seen a minute of ice time since the upset to Belarus on opening night a week ago. I was a bit suprised that coach Rybalka pulled Genoe rather than let him settle during the intermission.
Not that it would have mattered.
USA popped four goals in on Canada West in the second period including markers from Danny Kristo (MTL), Max NiCastro (DET), Josh Birkholz and Josh Balch. Kristo went on to be named the game's top player for the Americans having a goal and an assist on the night but looked very dangerous throughout.
Canada West stuck to their game which had been successful all week long but unfortunately they couldn't run USA out of the rink with physical play. When Andrew MacWilliam (TOR) stepped into Kristo with a thunderous hit, some thought the smallish skilled forward would turn into a shrinking violet the rest of the game but he came right back. The Americans just wouldn't be intimidated and it showed.
Mike Cichy (pictured) was given the MVP award and deserved it for leading the event in scoring with 10 points. He was obviously selected to the all-star team too along with American goalie Lee, defenceman Matt Donovan (NYI) and forward Craig Smith. Canadians Andrew MacWilliam and 16-year-old Jaden Schwartz rounded out the winners.
Netminder Mike Lee (pictured with WJAC trophy) posted a perfect 4-0 record with a sparkling 1.75 GAA and .933 SV%. In my personal opinion he would have been as good of a choice for MVP as he was clearly the top goalie in the tournament and made numerous stellar saves all week. For his efforts he'll be a guest with Dean and I on Tuesday's edition of The Pipeline Show.
I will be writing up a complete event review for Hockey's Future in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here is a link to the post game interviews for the Championship game featuring USA head coach Mark Carlson, forwards Mike Cichy and Danny Kristo as well as Canada West coach Boris Rybalka and captain Andrew MacWilliam.
All in all it was a solid event. Room for improvement I think in terms of teams coming in (would have liked the Canadian and USA squads to all be late 90's and 91's so all players were undrafted) but no event is ever perfect. The organizing committee did a tremendous job, the bulding was fantastic and the crowds got better as the week went on but I'm not sure if ticket sales will end up being considered a success or not. (I hope so!)
Can't wait for next year... although we'll have to wait a few weeks to find out where the 2009 site will be. I've heard the most interest is coming from towns in either Saskatchewan or Manitoba though.