There’s a little added motivation for the U.S. National Junior Team as it takes the ice against Switzerland at 5 p.m. EST in Calgary. For some of these players, it could be the last time they wear the USA crest on their jersey, but for all there’s a chance at avoiding infamy.
The winner of tonight’s contest will finish the tournament in seventh place. Only one U.S. team in all the years USA Hockey has participated at the WJC has finished lower than seventh place. That came in 1999. Seventh isn’t where you want to be, but it’s also not eighth. A win also puts Team USA back at .500, as it currently sits 2-0-0-3.
Coming up after the jump, a look at today’s match up.
Team USA Update
Austin Watson’s seven-point day against Latvia tied a U.S. record for points in one game. He now leads the U.S. National Junior Team with nine points in the tournament.
Watson skated with Nick Bjugstad and Brandon Saad during the 12-2 win against Latvia and that line was just clicking. The trio combined for seven of Team USA’s 12 goals and posted a total of 16 points. I have a feeling they’ll be back together again.
The U.S. is not only playing to avoid tying the worst finish for a U.S. club in WJC history, they’re also playing for seeding. The team that finishes in seventh place will end up in Group B, while the eighth place team heads to Group A, which will include this year’s gold-medal winner. The seeding won’t much matter to the U.S., as they’ll expect to contend once again regardless of which group their in, but it’s good to know where you’ll stand in the coming year.
There are only three players off this U.S. roster that will be eligible to return when the World Junior Championship heads to Ufa, Russia in 2013. John Gibson, J.T. Miller and Jacob Trouba will be the holdovers. Switzerland is going to provide more of a challenge for the U.S. in its final game and it would be a good idea to give this trio as much ice as possible.
Trouba and Miller have been playing regularly for the U.S., but Gibson only has one start, a loss to Finland, to head home with. As much as it would be nice to see Jack Campbell on the World Junior stage one last time, it wouldn’t hurt for Gibson to head out of this tournament on a high note, assuming the U.S. can defeat Switzerland. Gibson is going to be Team USA’s best age-eligible goaltender in 2013. It’s not vital that he plays today, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
I have yet to get an update on Connor Brickley and Derek Forbort, though I don’t anticipate either being in the line up today. Both sat out yesterday’s 12-2 win.
Switzerland missed the medal round after a third-period collapse against Slovakia. Leading 4-2 until five minutes into the third period, the Swiss gave up four unanswered goals, thus sending them to the relegation round.
Perhaps the stunned Swiss were a bit shell shocked heading into their game against Denmark. The Danes, who had been thoroughly outclassed throughout the tournament took the heavily favored Swiss to overtime. Eventually, Tanner Richard potted the game-winner in extra time for Switzerland, but what a scare that was.
Switzerland has been without its most accomplished player, Sven Bartschi. The Portland Winterhawks forward has been out since the second game of the tournament. Even without Bartschi, the Swiss have some good skill and a fair amount of grit.
The U.S. played Switzerland in its second of three exhibition games leading up to the World Junior Championship. With a yet-to-be-completed roster, the U.S. torched Switzerland, 7-3. Brandon Saad had five points in the contest.
Team USA can’t take its final opponent lightly. The Swiss likely got a bit of a wake-up call from their scare against Denmark and will be ready to compete for seventh place.
For the U.S., this is their final game together and a chance to go out on a high note. Jason Zucker tweeted the following this morning.
Team USA’s captain seems to understand what’s left to play for.
Today will close the chapter on the 2012 World Junior Championship for the U.S. and it probably couldn’t end soon enough. This is a forgettable tournament, but the lessons learned will not be buried by the people that put these tames together. It’s a tough way to go out and there’s still a year between now and the next tournament, but there will be another World Junior Championship. After tonight, the slate goes blank.
In case you haven’t heard, Sweden and Russia have advanced to the gold-medal game at the World Junior Championship. Finland and Canada are forced to play for bronze.
Yesterday’s semifinals were classic World Junior battles. Sweden came back from a 2-0 deficit to force a shootout against Finland in what will go down as one of the best World Junior tilts between these two fierce rivals. Sweden’s Sebastian Collberg and Max Friberg scored in the shootout, while Finnish captain and one of the most skilled players in this age group, Mikael Granlund, fumbled his attempt with the game on his stick.
Tough way to end it for Finland who got better as the tournament wore on. Sami Aittokallio put on one of the best goaltending performances of the tournament from start to finish. They proved their victory against the USA was no fluke and that Finland is back in a big way on the Under-20 stage.
Sweden, meanwhile, looks like a team poised for gold. They battled back in a very physical contest with Finland and earned a huge victory. Their defense really tightened up after the second Finnish goal and the goaltending gave the Tre Kronor a chance to get back in it. By the way, Max Friberg is a lot of fun to watch and he should be one to keep your eye on in the final. He has nine goals and 11 points. What a tournament he’s had.
Then, the primetime tilt between Canada and Russia. Oh, what a game. Games like these make international hockey so fun to watch. Russia was up 6-1 at one point in this game, but Canada stormed back, a post away from tying the game. Russia held on for a 6-5 win and a trip to the gold medal game.
Yevgeni Kuznetsov was a beast for Russia in the game against Canada, netting a hat trick in the contest. He drew the ire of the Canadian fans and especially Eric Francis of QMI Agency, with some of his antics in the contest. Kuznetsov, for most of the game was the best player on the ice. He’s a 19-year-old kid playing in an emotionally-charged rivarly game with medal implications. I wouldn’t have expected him to act any differently.
Another standout, right up until the third period, was 1994-born netminder Andrei Vasilevski. It’s hard to believe the 17-year-old was playing at the U17 Four Nations Cup just over a year ago in the Chicago suburbs in front of about 200 people. He got chased in his start against the U.S. U17s, but now he’s one of the best goaltenders at the World Junior Championship. This kid has a bright future in his position. (Did you see that save he made on Huberdeau in the first? Mercy.)
The gold-medal game takes place on Thursday at 8 p.m. EST. It should be a thrilling game between a pair of teams that played a preliminary-round classic on New Year’s Eve. Expect a highly-competitive, exciting match up between the tournament’s two best teams in Sweden and Russia. It will air live on NHL Network in the U.S., and I believe will stream live on FASTHockey.com. You won’t want to miss it.
I joined Rob Sanderson on the Drop The Puck radio show in Rochester, N.Y., Sunday. Here’s the podcast of that interview, which covers the disappointment of the relegation round, what went wrong, Shane Prince, and who I think will be the biggest NHL star to come off this U.S. team down the line.
Team USA’s statistics through five games.
The latest from the U.S. National Junior Team blog.
The U.S. National Women’s Under-18 Team awaits the winner of Germany-Czech Republic at the World Women’s Under-18 Championship, as Team USA earned a bye to the semis. Both the U.S. and Canada are in the semifinals and one would have to expect they’ll meet each other for the fifth time in the gold-medal game. Team USA has won three of the first four Women’s World Under-18 Championships.
The U.S. National Under-17 Team plays Russia tonight in the championship game at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Windsor, Ont. Game time is set for 7 p.m. EST. I’ll have a full preview of this contest later this afternoon on United States of Hockey.
World Junior Championship coverage will continue on United States of Hockey throughout the week. I’ll recap the USA-Switzerland contest as well as offer a more in-depth postmortem of Team USA’s disappointing result, including a look at every player on the U.S. roster.