For the first time ever, the United States is on top of the junior hockey world. And a devastated Canadian team is left to wonder how another championship slipped away.
Team USA defeated Canada 4-3 in today's gold medal game to win the 2004 World Junior Hockey Championship in Helsinki. Trailing 3-1 after the second period, the Americans tied the score early in the third on goals by Ryan Kesler and Patrick O'Sullivan.
The game-winner came with just under five minutes left. Canada's goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, made a successful poke check to stop a breakaway by O'Sullivan. But the puck bounced off Canadian defenseman Braydon Coburn and into the net.
Team USA finishes the tournament undefeated, at 6-0. The United States' previous best world junior finish was a silver medal in 1997.
Canada wins silver for the third straight year. But it has now been seven years since a Canadian junior team won gold. A more disturbing trend: In three straight gold medal games, the Canadians have taken a lead (3-1 over Russia in 2002, 2-1 over Russia in 2003, 3-1 over the USA in 2004). But in each case, they collapsed late.
American forward Zach Parise, a first-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, was named MVP of the tournament.
In a game played earlier today, Finland defeated the Czech Republic 2-1 to win the bronze medal.