ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — The Canadians went as far as you can in the 2017 World Junior Championship without leaving victorious. The team was up two goals twice in the gold medal game. Even after losing both leads, the championship was up in the air in the second half of the five-round shootout.
One shootout goal was the difference between gold and silver. That made it even harder for the Canadians to move past.
U.S. center Troy Terry scored the only goal for either team in the fourth round, lifting the Americans to a 5-4 victory and their first World Junior Championship since 2013.
"It almost didn't even seem real at the time," said defenseman Jake Bean, a 2016 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. "So much comes to close right away. It took a couple months to get over."
As one side celebrated on the Montreal ice, the other saw their championship dreams slip through their fingers on home soil. This year's crop of Canadian elites, especially the players back from last year's team, haven't forgotten that game and the heartbreak that ensued.
"I've had a bad taste in my mouth since that game," defenseman Kale Clague said. "We need to get revenge there."
Taylor Raddysh said he sometimes hears jabs from opponents in junior hockey about falling short. Even if players want to move past it, others don't let them.
All five Canadians who shot in the shootout have moved on to the professional level. The goalie, Carter Hart, is the only shootout participant back. He did an admirable job, stopping all but one American. It just turns out he needed to be perfect.
He said he learned from the experience and hopes it'll help his game this year. He put most of the bad feelings behind him after going home for a week following the tournament.
"It was good to hit the reset button," Hart said.
In total, there are seven players back from last year's Canadian World Junior team: Hart, Bean, Clague, Raddysh, Dante Fabbro, Dillon Dube and Michael McLeod. There isn't a generational talent on the team like in year's past, but the experienced core has Canada among the favorites to take home gold this year.
"Every guy coming back from last year's tournament should be a leader of that team," Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme said.
Although Ducharme doesn't want to label his team as defensive, four of the seven returnees are defensive-minded. Hart beat out Michael DiPietro, Colton Point and Samuel Harvey to start at goal. Bean, Clague and Fabbro will anchor the blue line in front of him along with Victor Mete, who was loaned from the Montreal Canadiens after spending 27 games in the NHL this season.
If the Canadians defeat the U.S. outdoors at New Era Field or in the medal round, the blue line will likely be a big reason why.
"It's crazy how good the D are," Bean said. "From the first day of camp, D1 to 11, there wasn't a big difference."
Of course, the U.S. isn't the only team Canada is competing with for a gold medal. The Americans might not even be the favorites, especially after the Sabres loaned Alex Nylander to Sweden. Still, Raddysh said a chance to flip the script, defeating the Americans on U.S. soil, has given the team an added hunger.
"It's something you'll never really forget," Raddysh said. "We use that as motivation."
Canada, which has won a World Junior-leading 16 gold medals, has only one gold once in the last eight years.
"You could put the expectation on Canada of winning gold every time," Hart said. "If you don't set yourself up for that goal, you're selling yourself short. It's pretty much gold or nothing for us."