Gold Medal Champions from 2013, Team USA began the defense of their medal with a 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships on Thursday.
Team USA got off to a fast start when the Czechs got called for a hooking penalty just 31 seconds into the game. Captain Riley Barber wasted no time in getting his team on the board with a bad angle goal that deflected in off the goaltender. While on the man advantage, Team USA drew another penalty. Barber scored on the delayed penalty and just 41 seconds later, defenseman Will Butcher scored on the second man advantage, putting his team up 2-0 just over two minutes into the game. Cue the pun-y jokes about the Baker and the Candlestick Maker being cut from the team.
There were no more goals in the first period, but there was definitely a lot of great goaltending and plenty of chances for both teams. But, the US would go into the first intermission still holding on to their 2-0 lead. Just over halfway through the middle frame, Hudson Fasching collected a rebound and extended USA’s lead to three. From USAhockey.com “Following a key penalty kill by the United States and a handful of big stops by Gillies, Andrew Copp (Ann Arbor, Mich./University of Michigan) took a pass from Stefan Matteau (Chicago, Ill.), skated it into the zone and put a hard shot on net. The rebound kicked right to Fasching and he tucked it into the top half of the net.” With just over three minutes to go, Quentin Shore wristed in a long shot from near the blue line that deflected off a stick and took a weird bounce such that Czech goalie Dolejs could not corral the puck before Jake Slavin slid the puck into the empty cage, giving the US a 4-0 lead.
Jon Gillies was solid in net all night but had his shutout bid ruined early in the third during after defenseman Connor Carrick took a tripping penalty. A sloppy clearing attempt on the ensuing PK allowed a Czech player to gather the puck behind the net and throw it to the middle of the ice. Michal Plutnar of the Czech Republic beat a heavily screened Gillies. Team USA restored their four goal lead with just over two minutes left in the game. Vince Hinostroza displayed a great pair of hands on a breakaway and beat Dolejs with a beautiful roof shot.
Though they’re not expected to medal (Sweden and Russia after heavily favored to take the Gold and Silver while either Canada or Finland is expected to get the Bronze), it was a good start for the Americans, beating a team they “should.” There was steady offensive pressure from the team, acting in chorus as a 5 man unit and received timely goaltending along with solid defense that was able to limit the Czechs’ offensive opportunities.
Overall, Head Coach Don Lucia was pleased with the effort his team put up. “It’s much easier when you can play with the lead like we did,” he said in an interview, referencing the two early power play goals. He credited the defense for their strong play and cited turning the puck over and giving up too many odd man rushes as being the really the only times the team got in trouble. They have some things to work and aspects of their game to clean up, but overall, it was a satisfactory win for the Americans.
Chris Peters from United States of Hockey liked what he saw from the third line. “[…] Team USA’s listed ‘third line’ of Stefan Matteau and Hudson Fasching flanking Andrew Copp was sensational from the drop of the puck. This is Team USA’s de facto grind line, but it’s one that can generate a lot of offense as well. They started every period for the U.S. and were just too powerful and too fast for the Czechs for much of the game. They set the tone early and maintained it throughout.”
Next up is Team Slovakia, which could prove to be a more challenging game for the US. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:30am ET and will be broadcast on the NHL Network in the US.