The Sudbury Wolves spared Canadian hockey from being put on the defensive. The OHL team with the ex-USHL goalie beat a USHL team to win the Junior Club World Cup on Sunday, edging the Waterloo Black Hawks 2-0.
Perhaps it's because of the calendar and the tournament is relatively unknown to North American fans, but the online following for the game seemed refreshingly free of the cross-border tension that usually pervades when Canada is facing the U.S. in a major team sport. It was just two club teams from the neighbouring nations; it probably was lost on few that Sudbury forward Michael Kantor, who was named tournament MVP, hails from Lake Forest, Illinois and that Wolves goalie Joel Vienneau, who kept Waterloo and 2013 draft hopeful Taylor Cammarata at bay, previously tended the cord cottage for the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks. Another of the Wolves' veterans, Charlie Dodero, also played in the USHL with Tri-City.
Still, let's be honest. Given that the Canadian Hockey League is the most well-organized under-20 league in the world and Sudbury was the first CHL team to go over, the Wolves probably had to win, if only to let the CHL keep a feeling of the upper hand. The Wolves certainly treated it like they were playing Team USA.
It was close, though. Cammarata and the Black Hawks, the Clark Cup reigning runners-up, had momentum for several long stretches. Waterloo plays on Olympic-sized ice, so they had more familiarity with it, and they seemed to keep Sudbury out on the perimeter very well by times. It was deadlocked until rapid-fire third-period goals from Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Josh Leivo and Vancouver Canucks prospect Frankie Corrado put the Wolves ahead for good.
The result is probably close to what's expected. The Wolves have a fairly veteran group and CHL teams are generally more reliant on 19-year-olds and overages; the goal scorers, tourney MVP and winning goalie all fall in those age cohorts.
The USHL did not need Waterloo need to beat a CHL team for validation. It had 28 players drafted by the NHL in June, with the U.S. under-18 team's Michigan Wolverines-bound Jacob Trouba (No. 9 overall, Winnipeg Jets) and Dubuque Fighting Saints' Zemgus Girgensons (No. 14, Buffalo Sabres) hearing their names called among the first 15 picks. Again, one shouldn't read too much into one game, but the Black Hawks' run showed the improving calibre of the league's top-end teams. Likewise, the Wolves, who were a mid-table team in the OHL's Eastern Conference and lost 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs to Brampton, showed the depth of the CHL.
The Junior Club World Cup seems like a worthwhile event; shame on those of us who overlooked it previously, particularly last summer with the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Fort McMurray Oil Barons represented Canada. An all-North American final should do a lot to stimulate interest on this side of the pond. Meantime, one should wonder if the Trent Cull-coached Wolves can use this as a springboard into the OHL season after their early exit in the spring.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.su
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