With Canada being perhaps the main driving force for the popularity of the World Junior Hockey Championship, it's a no-brainer for the Canadians to be selected to play in the first ever outdoor game in the history of the tournament.
While it would've been even more fitting for the all-time winningest team in the event's history to have emerged triumphant in a signature moment, that outcome wasn't in the cards for the red and white.
That means being a part of something special is among the positives Canadian players and coaches can take from the team's 4-3 shootout loss to rival United States at snowy New Era Field in a Group A preliminary-round contest.
"I felt like a kid again," said Boris Katchouk, whose late second-period goal momentarily blunted U.S. momentum and gave Canada a 3-1 lead. "It was a great experience overall. … Every Canadian was probably watching on their television. … They helped us score those goals."
Canada had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 after each period as the snow kept picking up while slowing the pace due to the need for stoppages to shovel the white stuff off the ice.
The Canadians chipped pucks into the USA zone and scored each of their goals through traffic – including power-play strikes from Cale Makar and Dillon Dube. They also prevented the U.S. from getting any offensive flow, despite the Americans holding a 24-14 edge in shots through two periods, and also kept them from getting to danger spots for quality chances.
A shaky third period, however, negated a whole lot of good by the Canadians.
While the weather forced both teams into keep-it-simple mode when they had the puck, the curse of the ill-timed, bad penalty contributed to Canada's doom in this one. Maxime Comtois' undisciplined boarding infraction opened the door for the comeback.
Scott Perunovich's power-play goal, the Americans' second of the game, with 13 minutes, 51 seconds left trimmed Canada's advantage to 3-2. The lead was gone 34 seconds later as Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt earned his third assist, setting up Brady Tkachuk's slam-dunk goal on the doorstep of goaltender Carter Hart.
"We had control of the game. We let them back taking a bad penalty," lamented Canada coach Dominique Ducharme.
"We just let off the gas a little bit there," Katchouk said. "We sat back a little bit when we shouldn't have been. … They had a great game coming back. We shouldn't have let them but sometimes the bounces in the game don't go your way."
Canada still had a great chance to end its three-game losing streak to the Americans, but Robert Thomas fired a shot off the post after receiving a cross-ice feed from Jordan Kyrou with roughly 2 minutes left in the 3-on-3 overtime.
Sam Steel of Canada led off the five-round shootout, beating U.S. goaltender Jake Oettinger but hitting nothing but post as the puck stayed out. That's the closest the Canadians came to scoring on their four shootout attempts.
While the loss is disappointing, in the whole grand scheme of things it means nothing to Canada. With the United States dropping a 3-2 loss in stunning fashion Thursday to Slovakia, the Canadians still control their own fate. Canada can finish first in Group A with a win Saturday night over Denmark.
That's the thing that mattered most to the Canadians following Friday's loss in a winter wonderland.
"This is round robin, we're in a good spot," said Canadian captain Dube. "It's just one game of the preliminary round. We can build off this. … It'll make us stronger for when it really counts."