An apology to George Lucas for that headline, (please don't sue me), but the evil empire to the south showed exactly why no one should take them lightly at the World Junior A Challenge as they beat Canada East 5-3 to close out the round robin.
With the win the Americans, Germans and Eastern Canucks all finished with 1-1 records but thanks to goal differential Pool B finishes:
1. Canada East
3. United States
With Pool A wrapping up yesterday, the teams completed the round robin in this order:
1. Canada West
That puts the playoff picture into focus and features a dandy match up on Thursday afternoon between Russia and USA with the later game being Germany and Belarus. The winner of those two games will go on to play Canada East and West in the semi finals on Saturday.
Hands up if you predicted before the tournament that Germany or Belarus would be in a semi-final game.
Back to tonight's game for a few highlights. For me the best player on the ice was #18 for USA, Danny Kristo. The Montreal Canadiens pick had 2 goals and a helper and was a thorn in the side of Canada East all night. He had a running feud with Canada's bench openly taunting them after each of his goals. Canada responded in the third by putting him solidly on his ass with two thunderous hits courtesy of #4 David Pratt and #6 Dustin Darou. I discussed it all with Kristo and head coach Mark Carlson after the game.
Kristo (pictured) wasn't named player of the game for Team USHL/USA though. That nod went to #15 Craig Smith who did have a very good game with 2 goals and an assist as well.
Calgary Flames draft pick #17 Nick Larsen had spurts where he stood apart as well.
Canada East, for much of the game, looked pretty vanilla. I actually felt the same way about the US after their loss to Germany as I did about Canada East tonight; outside of a couple of players... they had nothing going on.
#10 Brandon Pirri (pictured) was shifty, creative and dangerous. He ended up with a goal and an assist but the pass he made on the set up was one of the game hilights. I spoke with him after the game which you can hear exclusively at The Pipeline Show.
#9 Marty O'Grady was chosen as the top player for Canada East but even with his 2 goals I can't really say he impressed me all that much. I prefered the performance of #11 Zach Hervato even though he didn't hit the score sheet.
#25 Defenceman Braden Birch, a Chicago draft pick, was decent as was #5 Mike Wills but the two on the backend that made me take notice more was the pair I mentioned earlier for their physical play.
One guy I was actually disappointed in tonight was #6 Seth Helgesen, the highly touted blueliner for USA. The only time I thought he stood out was on a bad pinch that directly led to a goal against. Other than that, pretty pedestrian performance. I did talk to him afterwards though to get a player profile.
All in all, outshooting Canada 44-24 made for a nice bounce back game for USA after sleeping against Germany on Tuesday. If they take a page from Canada's playbook, they'll be a stiff test for Russia in the playoffs.
Speaking of Russia... there is a very interesting thread discussion going on at the message boards at Hockey's Future in regards to the Russia/Canada game on Tuesday. Although Russian head coach Vladimir Plyuschev said "Nyet" to Canadian media who wanted to discuss the game he apparently was more than happy to vent in Russian paper "Sport-Express".
All I can say is that it would have been great to hear his side of things after the game... we all wanted to talk to him about it and I think his version needed to be heard, but not this way.
If you haven't seen it yet... here's the brief TSN recap of that game: