USA advances to gold medal game with victory over Canada
Two teams with their eyes set on gold met this afternoon in a battle of North American titans. Both took convincing routes to the semifinal.
Canada marched through the preliminary round with nary a hick-up. Admittedly, the 11-6 victory over Latvia was nothing to write home about, but the team only became stronger and more convincingly did whatever was necessary to defeat Finland, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland. In a somewhat tougher battle that saw Canada score an empty net goal against itself on a delayed penalty call, the Canadians knocked off Sweden 5-3 to safely get into the semifinals.
The USA started the tournament off with a 3-1 loss to Russia although it outshot the Sbornaya by more than three shots to one in the game, getting 51 shots on goal. It never looked back after that. With scores of 10-0 against Slovakia, 6-4 over Sweden, and 13-1 over Germany, the team put on the largest display of fireworks in the tournament. A 7-2 victory over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals only further confirmed how lethal the team was.
With that, the tables were set for the most excitedly awaited game between the two teams most fans, pundits, and experts alike felt were the top two teams at this U18 World Championships.
And so when the first puck dropped, it was almost no surprise that the two ice hockey giants spent the first ten minutes feeling each other out very carefully, doing everything to avoid making the first mistake. This nonetheless gave the USA the opportunity to control the puck for the majority of the period, sometimes taking it to the Canadians for minutes at a time. The first line of Auston Matthews surrounded by Jack Roslovic and Matthew Tkachuk proved very difficult to handle for the Canadians, who were nonetheless continually held in the game by goaltender Zach Sawchenko.
Canada rarely got a shot off, but when it did, it was clear that the team had the greater amount of support from the audience in Zug. Every opportunity ended in a chorus of cheers and sighs, as did any check successfully thrown by the Canadians or save made by Sawchenko.
The period ended 0-0 and as had often been the case to date, the US had gone about outshooting its opponent 15-4.
In the second period, the intensity picked up and the Canadians started doing more with the puck, which only spurned the USA to do the same. This went on in a classic case of stalemate until Clayton Keller grabbed a puck off the left boards and simply made his way to the Canadian goal, deking out the defenseman and then backhanding a nifty shot over Sawchenko’s shoulder to give the US the lead with a little over 17 minutes left in the period.
At the 7:50 mark, Canada was given a power play on a holding call against US defenseman Casey Fitzgerald. Only 21 seconds later, Deven Sideroff received a short pass from Parker Wotherspoon, marched in on goal from the left side and sent a laser by Evan Sarthou, who was beaten right under his glove hand.
As has been the case so often in this tournament, the US immediately created more pressure on the next shift, bringing several pucks to the net. Unlike most opponents the US faced, Canada was able to mount dangerous counterattacks and pull the US defense out of its comfort zone. And so things went until the red, white, and blue gained a power play on a slashing call on goal scorer Sideroff with just under six minutes to go in the second period.
Setting up shop on several occasions, a one-time slapper from Roslovic off a lovely pass from Matthews just barely missed the goal and proved to be the most dangerous opportunity the US would obtain.
Canada seemed to gain confidence from this penalty killing opportunity and was also able to gain more puck possession to wind down the period. An abuse of this puck possession eventually led to an untimely goal against. With plenty of time, a clearing attempt from the Canadian zone was knocked down out of the air at the blueline. Matthews got the puck and dropped it off to Mike Floodstrand, who sent a semi-blocked shot on goal. Leaving a juicy rebound, Sawchenko wasn’t able to cover up the puck and Matthews pushed it by him with 2:02 to go in the second.
Shortly thereafter though, the US got itself into trouble. After a rough boarding call on US defenseman Jamie McAvoy, the Canadian power play went to work and caused some pressure and commotion until the US somehow threw five players on the ice and received another penalty for too many men on the ice. This gave Canada 45 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time in the second. Meticulously, the Canadians moved the puck and sought out the perfect shot opportunity and once it came, Sarthou was there to put a glove on it to conclude the second period.
The shot count at that point was 29-15 for the USA.
Canada opened the third frame with another 29 seconds on the 5-on-3 and a total of 1:16 of power play time. This proved to be a turning point. The USA did everything it could to keep the puck out of the net and were successful in doing so. It was far and away the most important penalty kill of the entire tournament for any team.
“The coaches showed us video during the intermission. They told us what we needed to do to kill off that Canadian power play, namely jump on pucks and shrink the zone. We got the puck out and it was huge, huge kill. Then we popped in several quick goals to get closer to victory”, explained US defenseman Joseph Masonius about the game-changing penalty kill.
What came after that was a shift of pure determination and domination by the Matthews line. With number 19 dancing around as he wished, the Canadians were put on their heels and finally seemed to have a chance to get out of the zone with a tired US line already on its way for a line change. Instead, Tkachuk blocked the clearing attempt and Roslovic grabbed the puck. Showing incredible patience, he held onto the puck, then sent an excellent pass to Tkachuk, who immediately slid it over to Matthews, who one-timed it past Sawchenko.
Just 32 seconds later, Caleb Jones dished the puck off to Colin White, who wristed one by an almost stunned Sawchenko to give the USA a 4-1 lead at the 42:55 mark. Canadian Coach Tim Hunter had seen enough and exchanged goalies, placing Evan Cormier into goal.
This seemed to wake up the Canadian team, which showed a much headier effort. The pressure caused a US turnover in the neutral zone, which allowed Canadian Captain Mitchell Stephens to skate in alone on goal and put a slick backhand shot over the glove hand shoulder of Sarthou, giving Canada new life with over 15 minutes time to go.
That was a new life that the US decided to extinguish ASAP. On the next attack, Jordan Greenway was in the slot and received a pass from Christian Fischer, which he quickly threw on net and got past an unsuspecting and cold Cormier, giving the US a commanding 5-2 lead with still 15:21 to go in the third.
As if the wind was completely out of their sails, the Canadians could only watch as the US continued to mount an attack and pass the puck around at will. This led to the sixth goal when White hammered in a one-timer right in the slot on a quick pass from Keller, who had just received the puck from Jeremy Bracco. Now down 6-2, Canada took its next penalty with just under 13 minutes to go in the period.
The floodgates had clearly opened and the next goal came with 10:15 to play in the game. At that point, a one-time shot was sent in by White, giving him his third goal of the period.
Down 7-2, frustration clearly set in with the Canadians and they proceeded to take several penalties as the game dwindled to an end. For the USA, this gave some of their lower line players a crack at power play time.
The game concluded 7-2 with the USA outshooting Canada 38-18.
Canadian coach declared, “The USA has a great hockey team and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win, because we didn’t move our feet and we didn’t pressure the puck. We stood around and watched for too much of the game. We’ll now regroup for the next game and get back to moving our feet, pressuring pucks, and checking better. That will bring us success and move us along.”
Hunter’s Team Canada will face the loser of that match in a battle for bronze tomorrow at 3 pm:
“The score was not indicative of the game. It was a very difficult game to win and we feel fortunate to advance against a very good team. The penalty kill at the end of the second and beginning of the third was the key to the game. Fortunately, we had the second intermission in between. That gave us a chance to regroup and plan. We now have two games in two days. Our opponent will too. We now need to rehydrate and regenerate. It’s another game and we have to stick to our game plan. The results should follow.”
The USA is scheduled to play for Gold tomorrow evening against the winner of Finland against Switzerland at 7 p.m.