They played a lot of hockey around this time last year in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. But the 2010 World Junior Championship really came down to two games between the United States and Canada.
Canada won a remarkable preliminary round game on New Year's Eve in a shootout, 5-4. But when it really counted, in the gold medal game, the Canadians' five-year run of titles ended as the Americans pulled out an even more remarkable win in overtime, 6-5.
Current Washington Capitals rookie defenseman John Carlson got the winning goal at 4:21 of OT, converting a 3-on-1 break and helping the Americans avoid a total collapse. Current Edmonton Oilers phenom Jordan Eberle scored twice for Canada in the final three minutes of regulation to wipe out a 5-3 deficit and force OT.
"That's pretty cool to get a chance to do that, score a goal that is really a big one, and be remembered for something like that," Carlson said when he came to town last month with the Capitals. "It's a great thing I'll always have in my career."
The final followed a nearly identical pattern of the preliminary-round game. Canada won that one by wiping out a 4-2 deficit in the final 10 minutes of regulation and then taking a wild shootout, 3-2, after a scoreless overtime.
Canada and Sweden swept through pool play at 4-0 while the U.S. was 3-0-1.
The U.S. thus had to play a quarterfinal, which it won in a breeze over Finland, 6-2. In the semis, Canada rolled to a 6-1 win over Switzerland and the U.S. beat Sweden, 5-2, and the final was officially on.
At least part of the final was watched by 12.3 million people on TSN -- or more than one in three Canadians. The average audience of 5.3 million is an all-time record for the network, Canada's equivalent of ESPN.
Canada's Luke Adam, who has split time this year between Buffalo and Portland, tallied the first goal of the game at 2:40 of the first period and the score was tied at 2-2 after 20 minutes. Adam assisted on a goal by Taylor Hall, now with Edmonton after being the first pick in last June's draft, that pulled Canada even at 3-3 through 40 minutes.
The U.S. got control in the third as Toronto prospect Jerry D'Amigo, on the roster for the tournament again this year, scored one goal and assisted on another tally by Derek Stepan, who had a hat trick in his first NHL game for the New York Rangers in October at HSBC Arena. That made it 5-3 as the Americans silenced the crowd in Saskatoon.
But Eberle put the life back in the building with a goal with 2:49 to play and sent the folks into a frenzy with the tying goal with 1:35 left.
"You don't see that often," Adam said recently. "Ebs really stepped up for the team."
"It was a tough thing," Carlson said. "You get every puck in their end and the game would be over but it's not how things work. There's too much talent out there.
"It would have been easy to count ourselves out. The momentum was going, it was in their building, their country, but we never did."
The Americans had a 4-3 advantage in shots on goal in the OT, with Carlson converting a quick strike after the Canadians had been stopped.
"I still remember the play," Adam said. "A 3-on-1 down our way, puck turned over, a 3-on-1 back, goal. That was it."
"Before OT, we said we could throw everything away to that point and just look at where we've been," Carlson said. "We had given ourselves a chance to win, so why not pull it out now? I had the chance, you kind of just close your eyes and shoot."
Adam, who scored his first NHL goal this year for the Sabres, said he's still trying to get over the loss.
"Sometimes I still look back on it and wish I had another crack at it this year," he said. "In Canada, they live and die by the world juniors so if they don't win gold, it's kind of a disappointment.
"The Americans had a great team and they deserved it. It was all pretty nerve-racking to be a part of. Sometimes it still keeps me awake."