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Canada gets revenge on Team USA
Moves to final game with 4-1 win a year after losing championship to Americans

The sign waved by Team Canada fans Rob Hamilton and Devin Ellis on Wednesday night in HSBC Arena summed it up pretty well: "We might be in Buffalo, but this is Canada's House."

Canadians from across the vast northern expanse celebrated wildly inside and outside the arena following Canada's dominating 4-1 victory over the United States in the semifinals of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

The win propelled Canada into the finals Wednesday against Russia and avenged a defeat at the hands of the Americans in last year's gold medal game in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

"It's been a long year after the overtime loss last year," said Deryl MacInnes, of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. "We've been waiting 12 months for this game to come up."

Draped in a Canadian flag, Scott McKenzie of Edmonton, Alberta, joined thousands of his countrymen in a full-throated rendition of "O Canada" following the game.

"Unbelievable. It was so one-sided. We won every battle. Our goalie showed up," said McKenzie, his voice hoarse from cheering all night.

Superfans James Wiebe, Garret Johnson and Joel Duda showed up in skintight Canadian flag body suits that also covered their faces.

The three drove 36 hours from Alberta for the tournament and were ecstatic with the results so far.

"It was fantastic. The best thing that could happen," Wiebe said.

If the Canadian players overwhelmed the U.S. team on the ice, their fans did the same in the stands, as the blur of red and white Canada jerseys in and around the arena attested.

Annette Fisher, a hockey fan from Colden, felt like she'd been transported to Saskatoon as she stepped into the tent party outside the arena.

"Did anybody mention this is the first time they felt outnumbered in their own country?" Fisher wondered. "It's just a sea of red."

Reporters and tournament officials expected the crowd to be decidedly pro-Canada, anywhere from 60 to 75 percent Canadian.

But by the time the puck dropped, that figure seemed even higher, with Canada fans appearing to outnumber U.S. fans by a 10-to-1 ratio for the rematch of last year's gold medal game.

"You didn't realize this was Buffalo, Ontario?" remarked Ron Mathurin of Ottawa, Ont. "I expected a lot more American fans. That sea of red is just like being on Canadian soil."

Most of those U.S. fans had filtered out of the arena long before the final horn sounded, allowing the Canadians to party unfettered.

"Buffalo became the biggest city in Canada tonight, let me tell you," Wiebe said.

Wearing their blue USA jerseys, Rick Gilmartin and his wife, Nancy, were serenaded by chants of "Bye-bye" as they exited the arena.

"It was 10 percent American and 90 percent Canadian," said Rick Gilmartin. "We're in our own country, and we're the minority."

Jeff Douglas anticipated a big Canadian crowd, but he didn't expect he and his son to be the only Americans at a bar near the arena shortly before game time, and the absoluteness of red in the arena seats.

"I was taken aback by the total outnumberedness. It was overwhelming," Douglas said. "It just proves that hockey is still a Canadian sport."

Team Canada seemed to feed off what amounted to home-ice advantage. With the raucous crowd waving flags and providing momentum, the Canadians jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period.

"This was karma," said Hamilton, recalling last year's humiliating loss on home turf.

American fans didn't seem too upset by the loss.

Matt Mang of Kenmore went up to the Alberta guys wearing the body suits and asked if they would pose for a picture with him.

His father, Andy, said he enjoyed the enthusiasm of the Canadians and the passion they showed for their team.

"That's all part of the fun. It's one of the reasons I wanted to come down here," he said.

Before the game, Paul Markiewicz and his son, Ryan, 14, seemed a bit out of place in their USA gear under the arena party tent. "That's all right. It's been that way all week," said the elder Markiewicz, who drove from Erie, Pa.

The Markiewiczes and other U.S. fans got booed heading up the escalators in the arena -- a not-so-subtle reminder that Canadians hadn't put last year's loss behind them.

Bill Miller, wearing an old USA World Juniors jersey, traded good-natured jabs with groups of Canadians who had gathered under the tent hours before game time.

Miller was one of the few U.S. fans who attended nearly all of the games, despite being so badly outnumbered by Canada fans.

Why?

"It's great hockey," he said.

Besides, he added, "nobody's been giving us a hard time."

Some Canada fans expressed surprise and disappointment in their U.S. counterparts.

"It's a shame," said Daniel Bornstein of Montreal. "It would've been better to see more Americans coming out, trying to promote hockey."

Bornstein and his friends did their best to drum up a rivalry with the few U.S. fans they encountered.

The game-time atmosphere was equivalent to that of a Buffalo Sabres home playoff game -- at least for the Canada fans. "It means everything," Bornstein said of the tournament. "This is like the Stanley Cup finals."

People who attended multiple tournament games were struck by the much larger Canadian fan base. Roughly 63 percent of the all-session and day-pass tickets were bought by Canadians.

Why more interest from Canada, for a tournament played on American ice?

"Junior hockey is woven into the fiber of Canada's culture to a very significant degree," said George Kuhn, a writer covering the tournament for Sports & Leisure magazine. Some of the Canadian interest has been fueled by the TSN network in Canada, which has turned this into a must-see event. Last year's Canada-USA final was seen by an estimated 5.4 million fans in Canada.

Ryan Molloy, 19, of Niagara Falls, Ont., considers himself a fan of junior hockey more than the NHL.

"It seems like the rivalries are more intense," said Cameron Ellis, 19, also of Niagara Falls, Ont. "It's like they're playing harder because they're trying to prove themselves at the national level."

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this story.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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