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World Juniors 2015 recap: Canada's skilled depth takes first place from US rivals

The classic New Year's Eve battle between North American rivals Canada and the USA was a physical affair early, with the Canadian skill taking over to give the host nation first spot in Group A.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Canada and the USA played their final game of the 2015 World Junior Championship round robin, each with an eye on claiming the top spot in Group A.

The US came out with the most jump, getting several good scoring chances in the opening moments before Canada got up to speed, with the host nation's most impressive trio of Max Domi, Sam Reinhart, and Anthony Duclair being the greatest threat to open the scoring for the home side.

Despite the shots begin fairly even about midway through the first period, Canada's chances were mostly off of one-chance opportunities in the offensive zone whereas USA was getting sustained zone time and working the boards to generate their opportunities. Canada took the play over as the period went along, leading the US in shots after their initial slow start thanks to a few good shifts in the offensive zone by the line of Lawson Crouse, Frederik Gauthier, and Nick Ritchie.

Play was fast and physical with big hits by both sides, highlighted by a big hit by Winnipeg Jets prospect Josh Morrissey, who had been making most of his stand-out plays on the offensive side of things in the tournament.

Ritchie took the physical play a bit too far as he was given the game's first penalty on a charge with about a minute remaining in the opening period.

The US was unable to take advantage of the man advantage with Max Domi actually getting the best chances to score short-handed to open the second period.

With the teams at even strength around the seven minute mark, Reinhart sent a pass to Domi who took the puck into the offensive zone. Domi's shot dropped a rebound for a net-charging Reinhart, and the centre touched it over to Domi to put home on his second attempt. The goal gives Domi a four-game point streak, getting on the scoreboard in each game of the tournament so far.

Dylan Larkin was incorrectly (thanks to baseball124 for pointing out that the international standard—rule 143.iv in the IIHF rule book [PDF]—is different from that of the NHL) called for a high stick off a follow-through, and on the ensuing powerplay Josh Morrissey showed some of his offensive ability, firing the puck past Thatcher Demko for a 2-0 Canada lead. Nic Petan got an assist on the play, his sixth of the tournament, and is quietly leading flashier teammates with the most points of all Canadian players.

The US responded on a powerplay of their own, with Anthony DeAngelo converting on a pass from Sonny Milano to give the Americans just their second powerplay tally in four games.

After a scrum had settled down late in the period, Darnell Nurse took an unnecessary roughing penalty on Jack Eichel to put the recently-successful US powerplay back to work. Frederik Gauthier put his heralded penalty-killing skills to use, blocking three shots while Nurse watched from the penalty box and preventing the Americans from tying the game at two goals apiece.

A slashing call at the end of the period gave Canada's powerplay a chance to open up a last-period two-goal lead.

They had some looks but couldn't take advantage with the Americans down a man. Canada didn't sit on their one-goal lead for the remaining eighteen minutes, however, controlling possession and continuing to throw pucks at the net with continuous pressure in the offensive zone during a seven minute stint without a stoppage in play.

The US regrouped with a TV timeout, and countered with a three-on-one against Canadian defender Madison Bowey. Bowey deftly broke up a pass in front of him to thwart the potential game-tying rush.

Moments later a rush the other way by Connor McDavid saw the puck go high off Demko and fall into the oncoming body of Curtis Lazar, bouncing home for a 3-1 Canada lead at the midway point of the third period.

The US looked like it had no response, with Canada leading the period shot count 10-2 with six minutes to go in the third and a comfortable two-goal lead.

The Americans refused to allow the Canadians to walk away with the victory without a fight, as Dylan Larkin reduced the lead to one with two-and-a-half minutes to go.

An empty net goal by Sam Reinhart seemed to be enough to put the game away, but Dylan Larkin responded with his second goal in under two minutes to pull his team back within one.

Another empty-net tally by Max Domi finally sealed the deal and secured Canada the top spot in Group A with a 5-3 win.

Canada will play its quarter-final game in Toronto at 8PM EST on Friday, January 2nd versus Denmark.
The US will play the third place team from Group B, which ultimately became Russia after their loss to the Czech Republic later in the day.