EDMONTON, AB – It’s Canada versus the United States.
Of course, there would be drama.
Canada forward Dylan Cozens scored in the dying seconds of the third period to tie the game and Josh Williams netted his second of the night in overtime as Team Canada defeated Team USA 6-5 in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup semifinal.
Canada will compete for their 22nd gold medal at the tournament Saturday against Sweden.
Cozens’ goal appeared to have crossed the goal-line after the time on the clock expired but after a short convention between the referees and linesmen, the goal stood.
“The bottom line is prior to the competition at the director’s meeting, it was decided that there would be no video review,” said Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney post-game. “It was decided by all teams and signed off on that the officials on the ice would make that call as they did tonight.”
It was a difficult loss for Team USA, who led Canada on four separate occasions, only to have each of their one-goal leads vanquished.
“It’s hard for the guys, they played hard and battled,” said Team USA Head Coach Cory Laylin. “I think they deserve better but we have to take what we get.”
It was an upbeat dressing room for Team Canada, who were relentless in each deficit they faced and never quit in their pursuit to compete for yet another Hlinka Gretzky gold medal.
“That was an amazing game,” said Canada captain Alexis Lafreniere, who notched a goal and assist. “That was really up and down. The fans supported us really well for momentum and that was great.”
There were fireworks early and often, as the teams skated out to a back-and-forth first period that saw five goals scored.
Team USA was the first to get on the scoreboard, although nobody knew it aside from the shooter himself, Nicholas Robertson, who ended the night with a hat trick.
While Canadian centre Ryan Suzuki was in the box for holding, Robertson fired a wrister that seemingly hit the iron and bounced out. The U.S. forward celebrated hard into the glass while the play continued, only to have Canada kill the penalty and tilt the ice the other way. The Canadians mustered all sorts of chaos in USA goaltender Dustin Wolf’s crease, eventually drawing a holding penalty. While the play was stopped, the refs convened, ultimately deciding that Robertson’s shot on the power play did indeed hit the back bar of the net and kick out, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead and the Canadians a power play.
“I thought it went in,” said Robertson of his first goal. “It would have been pretty embarrassing if it didn’t. Once it went in, we were excited but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
Canada replied on the ensuing man-advantage.
Lafreniere and Xavier Parent orchestrated a give-and-go in the offensive zone, creating space for Lafreniere towards the net. The Canada captain toe-dragged the puck past Luke Reid and released a wrist shot to beat Wolf for his third of the tournament.
But the goals kept coming.
Team USA responded on a beautiful marker of their own. Aaron Huglen summoned his inner Sidney Crosby, scooping an idle puck lacrosse-style at the side of Canada’s net, balancing it on his blade as he curled behind the cage to tuck it past Canadian goalie Nolan Maier, who stood no chance on the highly skilled play.
And the pendulum kept swinging.
Canada forward Jamieson Rees swatted in a loose puck that managed to trickle past Wolf next, knotting it up at 2-2. Through the first nine minutes of play, four goals were scored on 11 shots.
The Stars and Stripes gained yet another lead late in the first after Robertson slipped a backhander past Maier off a Josh Nodler faceoff win. It was Robertson’s second goal of the period and his club’s third lead, this time up 3-2.
Seeking yet another tying goal late in the frame, Kirby Dach rushed in on a breakaway while Lafreniere tailgated. The Fort Saskatchewan, AB, native left a drop-pass for Lafreniere, whose shot was stopped by Wolf.
The U.S. took their 3-2 advantage into the second period, edging Canada 17-14 in shots after 20.
“There were some ups and downs in that game but we showed some great character and battled back,” said forward Cozens.
The middle stanza was a stark contrast to the first, with only one goal being tallied – courtesy of Team Canada.
The Red and White – once again – tied up the match in the second after Robert Mastrosimone was called for hooking. Lafreniere centred a pass to Parent in the slot for a one-timer that passed Wolf at 8:34. The goal marked the third time Canada overcame a one-goal deficit on the night.
The madness continued in the third with both squads trading leads to set up a dramatic finish for Team Canada.
It wasn’t until the final 20 that Canada took the lead for the first time, with yet another goal coming from their potent power play. Williams received a drop-pass from Suzuki inside the right circle, sniping the puck top shelf to give Canada the go-ahead marker at 3:31.
Team USA replied with a pair of quick-fire goals, courtesy of Robertson and Luke Toporowski.
Robertson potted his third of the night at 11:58, getting a piece of Maier’s water bottle with a short side snipe.
Then, Toporowski dumped a rebound past Maier at 13:33 to give the U.S. a 5-4 edge with under eight minutes to play.
Canada pulled the goalie with just over a minute left in search of their fourth equalizer of the night. It was at that point where Cozens received a pass in the slot and ripped a shot that appeared to have passed the line in the dying seconds of the game.
“I knew the clock was ticking down but as soon as it got on my stick, I just tried to get it off as quick as I could,” he said. “Definitely one of the biggest goals of my life.”
The referees grouped together, once again deciding that the puck crossed the line before time was out to force a 10-minute 4-on-4 overtime period, where Williams placed a wrist shot past Wolf.
“The fans tonight were amazing,” said Lafreniere. “Tomorrow it’s going to be the same. To have big support like this is always helpful.”
Puck drop in the gold medal match is at 7:00 PM MT.