SASKATOON -- The Americans took to the ice, seeing nothing but red.
They left with gold.
So it was that Team Canada's attempt to capture a sixth straight World Junior championship crashed and burned with a dramatic 6-5 victory by a feisty group of Americans who defied both history and a capacity crowd of 15,171 at the raucous Credit Union Centre, which was a sea of red.
In the process, the Americans spoiled not only Canada's streak of five straight, but perhaps the most clutch performance in Canadian international hockey history since Paul Henderson's heroics in the '72 Summit Series.
After all, Jordan Eberle -- who, remember, scored the game-tying goal with just 34 seconds left in regulation in last year's thrilling semifinal victory over Russia that led to gold in Ottawa -- scored twice in the last three minutes Tuesday night to force overtime against the Americans, who were leading 5-3 deep into the third period.
Eberle first scored on the power play with 3:57 left before tying the score 5-5 with 1:35 remaining in the period to force overtime.
However, Team USA's John Carlson broke a nation's heart, beating Team Canada netminder Martin Jones -- who had replaced starter Jake Allen in the third -- at 4:31 into overtime on a three-on-one break.
It was a gold medal final for the ages, nonetheless, marking only the Americans' second WJHC title. Team USA's only previous gold was in 2004, against Canada, which then proceeded to win the next five straight world championships.
So how does a gold medal feel? "Heavy," beamed Team USA captain Derek Stepan. "It's indescribable right now. Any time you can win this tournament it's a real special feeling no matter where you are. But to win it in an atmosphere that's hockey-born, 24-7 is even more of a special feeling. This atmosphere is one of the funnest atmospheres I've ever played in. So I have to tip my hat to all the fans here."
After a back-and-forth game where both starting goaltenders were yanked, it seemed as though the Canadians were destined to claim a record sixth straight championship. But after a close call by the Canadians, the Americans stormed back down the ice and Carlson beat Jones, making only his second appearance of the tournament, on the short side. Not surprisingly, it was a glum Canadian bunch that faced the cameras in the wake of defeat.
"That's the way things happen," shrugged forward Brayden Schenn, of the Brandon Wheat Kings. "I thought the guys showed a lot of character coming behind from two goals (down) like that with five minutes left. It sucks, but you can't do anything about it."
Added Canadian defenceman Ryan Ellis, a veteran of last year's gold medal squad in Ottawa: "Everybody's kind of bummed out. It's a tough situation."
The same could have been said of the Americans during the intermission after blowing their two-goal lead. "We were all sitting on the bench going, 'They did it to us again?' " Stepan noted.
After all, the Americans saw a 4-2 lead to Canada slip away in the preliminary round, losing 5-4 in an overtime shootout.
"The initial feeling," added Team USA head coach Dean Blais, "was we blew the game. We were lucky to hang on. We got a few bounces of the puck tonight."
However, Stepan said his teammates were determined not to let victory slip away again. "We said, 'The last 60 minutes is done. We've got to regroup and get a fresh start,' " the American said.
In the end, it was the Americans' speed and opportunism, which led them to quarter-final victories over Finland and the heavily-favoured Swedes, that created the game-winning turnover and produced the winner.
"It was a gift," Stepan said. "You don't get many gifts."
So what was the Americans' secret?
"We played Canadian hockey," Blais said, matter-of-factly. "We had gritty players. We blocked shots. We played both ends of the rink. You learn from the best."
No, it wasn't supposed to end this way. Not for Canada. Not in Canada.
It seemed like destiny again in Saskatoon. Just like it was for Henderson and Co. so many years ago in Moscow.
But, hey, you can't win them all.
USA 6 Canada 5 (OT)
1. Canada, Adam 4 (Caron) 2:40
2. U.S., Kreider 6 (Palmieri, Donovan) 13:56
3. U.S., Schroeder 3 (C.Bourque, Jenks) 14:32
4. Canada, Nemisz 1 (Kadri, Hall) 16:03
Penalties -- Della Rovere Cda (charging) 16:34, Pietrangelo Cda (checking from behind, misconduct) 19:32.
5. U.S., Carlson 3 (Kristo, McRae) 1:03 (pp)
6. Canada, Hall 6 (Adam) 3:56
Penalties -- Caron Cda (slashing) 4:20, Lashoff U.S. (tripping) 7:23.
7. U.S., D'Amigo 6 (Stepan, Kristo) 4:12
8. U.S., Stepan 4 (D'Amigo) 6:23
9. Canada, Eberle 7 (Ellis, Kadri) 17:11 (pp)
10. Canada, Eberle 8 (Pietrangelo, Hall) 18:25
Penalties -- McRae U.S. (delay of game) 1:31, Palimieri U.S. (charging) 15:59.
11. U.S., Carlson 4 (Ramage) 4:31
Penalties -- None.
Shots on goal by
Canada 5 14 19 3 -- 41
U.S. 13 12 8 4 -- 37
Goal (shots-saves) -- U.S.: Lee (7-4), Campbell (W,2-1-1)(13:56 second, 34-32); Canada: Allen (28-23), Jones (L,1-1-0)(16:23 third, 9-9).
Attendance -- 15,171.