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World junior championship: Team USA and John Gibson take gold, extending trend of bounce-back champions

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Gibson had a Team USA-record .955 save percentage in the WJC (The Canadian Press)

From seventh place to seventh heaven. When the final horn sounded in Ufa, Russia on Saturday signifying Team USA was back on top on the world junior championship podium, goalie John Gibson sought out his Pittsburgh-area pal, centre J.T. Miller. The two best friends from the 'Burgh, along with the tournament's top defenceman, Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Jacob Trouba, were part of that embarrassment in Edmonton 12 months ago when Team USA ended up in the relegation round.

By beating Sweden 3-1 on Saturday, they became the fourth consecutive WJC champion who was coming off a non-medal showing. So there is that, Canada.

"We know what each other feels and it was just a great experience," said Gibson, named the tournament MVP after allowing just nine goals in seven games for a 1.36 average and a .955 save percentage, both Team USA records as he took home tournament MVP honours. "Really special for me and J.T., especially with what a bad year we had last year."

"We wanted redemption and we wanted to come back better this year," the Anaheim Ducks prospect and Kitchener Rangers star said on a conference call. "We really didn't know what to expect but it's amazing right now."

Canada faded like bad denim after its 4-0 start to do a Todd Brooker right off the medal podium. Team USA outscored opponents 24-5 across its four-game run to the title after opening with two losses in its first three games. They might be the most dominant two-loss team to ever play in the tournament since it went to a one-game knockout format.

"We just kept getting better and better," Gibson said. "The team that does that is usually the one who ends up winning the gold medal."

'Hung tight'

Apart from last season's stunner, Team USA has a bronze medal in 2011 and the gold back in 2010 on its mantle. The U.S. national team development program has also helped produce a IIHF champion under-18 team for four years running. As the tournament went along, it was evident the U.S. had more of its top players going, especially the defence corps led by Trouba, Seth Jones, Shayne Gostisbehere, Connor Murphy, Mike Reilly and Patrick Sieloff.

"They hung tight and were able to make my job a lot easier," Gibson said.

Last season, Sweden won the gold in Calgary one year removed from a fourth-place showing. The 2011 champs, Russia, were coming off playing sixth in Regina at the previous championship. When the U.S. won its previous gold in 2010, it was one season after it finished fifth at the '09 WJC in Ottawa.

Team USA's triumph owed to its goalie, keeping a tight ship in its own zone and having balance up front with the likes of Miller (2G-7A) and John Gaudreau (7G-2A), who shared the team point lead with Trouba. Another takeaway about coach Phil Housley's team is the experience from 2012, even though there were only three holdovers from that team, turned the hurt into hunger.

"I think we just stuck to our game plan and didn't get away from it. We just played our game and tried not to worry too much about being [perceived as] the underdog and what-not. We just went out there and came away with the gold."

Now the 6-foot-2 goalie who was cut from his high school team as a 14-year-old freshman has a claim to be the best teenage 'tender in the world. Gibson, though, isn't going to flaunt his success in front of Team Canada coach Steve Spott and defenceman Ryan Murphy when they reunite in Kitchener next week.

"Right now I'm just trying to enjoy this part," Gibson said of an anticipated awkward reunion with the OHL's Rangers. "We'll worry about that when it happens."

That could be the first worry he's betrayed in a while. It is no wonder, then, that Gibson is projected as a future NHL regular.

"I'm the kind of person who's always relaxed, never gets too high or too low."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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