Wed Dec 28 07:40pm EST
EDMONTON — When the Finnish anthem ended, it was easy to notice that American goalie was John Gibson was quick to yank his mask down over his face.
No one was going to get a chance to read the 18-year-old goalie's emotions. One play doesn't alter an outcome, but the final unravelling for Team USA in its 4-1 loss to Finland was the interference call on Gibson took with 10:51 left in a tie game that negated a U.S. power play. Following a minute and 45 seconds of 4-on-4, Buffalo Sabres-drafted speedster Joel Armia split defencemen Derek Forbort and Jacob Trouba during the abbreviated Finn power play to score the game-winner.
Gibson turned into Miikka Salomäki as the Finn cut through his crease while trying to get back on defence. Every goalie does that to slow down backchecking forwards when his team is breaking out, but Gibson got caught.
"He said I took my foot out of the crease and I looked up and my foot was in the crease," said Gibson, who allowed four goals on 27 shots. "It was just a downer for the team. We were on the power play and we had all the momentum and we had just scored [earlier in the period]. That took all that away from us. It was my fault. I tried my best but it didn't work out tonight."
Gibson wouldn't say if the call affected him, but the Armia goal was a softie, as the Finn fanned on his deke only to have the puck slide into the net. Mikael Granlund doubled the lead 29 seconds later and Armia iced it with 3:33 left.
The loss leaves Team USA at 1-0-0-1 with an off day before playing the Czech Republic on Thursday. Dean Blais, the U.S. coach, did not argue with the call on a day when the referee crew of the Swiss Brent Reiber and Canadian Devin Klein called just eight minor penalties.
"Well, evidently the goaltender's got his crease but you can't interfere with a guy going through it," Blais said. "He's allowed to go through as long as you are not standing in there and I thought he [Gibson] bumped him."
Team USA probably didn't play well enough to look for excuses. For the second game in a row, it started slowly. Finland goalie Sami Aittokallio made 38 saves, but his team had more puck-possession time.
"It was kind of a sloppy start by us," said left wing Emerson Etem, who assisted on Brandon Saad's goal that tied the game 19 seconds into the third period. "Not defensively but offensively. We didn't get traffic in front of the net, all the shots were on the perimeter. They were able to capitalize on their chances."
Ultimately, the Gibson penalty was a gumption trap. The U.S. stepped right in it.
"You have to have to have a little game plan to take care of what happened and we didn't do that," Etem said. "We just got to be ready, no matter what happens. If we're on the power play and we get a penalty, we have to be good 4-on-4."
The loss means the Canada-U.S. game on New Year's Eve could still decide top spot in Group B and the bye into the Jan. 3 semiifinal. A three-way tie between Canada, Finland and the U.S. is in play.
"We play the Czechs in two days and I'm sure we'll bounce back and go from there," Gibson said.
— with files from Thayne Hallyburton
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).