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Canadian fans turn HSBC Arena into Buffalo, Ontario

Buffalo might have been the host, but the game inside HSBC Arena on Monday night was Canada's party.

The blur of red and white Canada jerseys in and around the arena for the semifinal matchup between the U. S. and Canada attested to it.

Annette Fisher, a hockey fan from Colden, felt like she had been transported to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 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?" she wondered. "It's just a sea of red."

Reporters and tournament officials expected the crowd to be pro-Canada, from 60 percent 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, which the U. S. won in Saskatoon.

"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."

Indeed, Paul Markiewicz and his son, Ryan, 14, seemed a bit out of place in their USA gear. "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."

As much as they appreciated having what amounted to a home-ice advantage, 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."

Carrying creative signs and drinking Labatt Blue, 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."

And with the raucous crowd waving flags and providing momentum, the Canada team jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period.

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. "I don't think people here, except for hard-core fans, [embrace] junior hockey."

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this story.