It took a few periods to get revved up, but the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team came out guns blazin’ in the third, scoring all four of its goals in that period to defeat Finland 4-0. Not a bad way to start the 2012 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship.
It was a stalemate after two, with both the U.S. playing sound fundamental defense. Both squads boast tremendously skilled defensive corps and both squads were definitely in defense-first mode for much of the first 40 minutes.
When the U.S. opened it up a bit and found its groove offensively in the third, it was overwhelming for the Finns. The speed and physical game played by the U.S. forwards forced Finland into defensive breakdowns and turnovers in their own zone. The goals came early and often in the third as a result.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the goal scorers, Olson and some other stand-out performers for Team USA.
Nic Kerdiles started it off, after jamming home his own rebound from in tight. The U.S. had struggled to get to the Finnish net for those second-chance shots, but Kerdiles planted himself with his 6-2 frame right on top of Korpisalo and was rewarded with the goal.
Matt Lane was the beneficiary of a strong forecheck by J.T. Compher on Team USA’s second goal. Compher was able to pin his man along the boards and kick the puck to Lane, who drove hard to the net for the goal. Lane showed excellent patience and speed on the goal, taking the puck across the crease and waiting until Korpisalo was down and out for an easy tally.
Just 1:20 later, Quentin Shore scored on a laser-beam shot to make it 3-0. Shore’s shot came from the top of the faceoff circles, past a Finnish defenseman and over the left shoulder of a bewildered Korpisalo. Based on the way the Finnish netminder reacted, it didn’t look like he ever picked up the shot after Shore’s quick release.
Connor Carrick wrapped up the scoring on a 3-on-2 rush on the power play. After Team USA transitioned out of it’s own zone, Frankie Vatrano waited for Lane and Carrick for support on the rush, then made a nice feed to Lane who took the shot and Carrick buried the rebound. After that, Finland was pretty much out of it.
The U.S. defense was really clicking for 60 minutes. The entire team put on a clinic in the D zone, forwards included. Getting sticks in lanes, playing the body and making smart plays allowed very little room for Finland to operate. As a result, the Finns were denied a lot of quality scoring chances.
Olson really had a sound night in net, earning the shutout. He made multiple saves with the game still knotted up at 0-0, that were big momentum killers for Finland. Every time the Finns managed to get through, which wasn’t often, Olson was there to make the stop. He did make a few incredibly important saves, one on a breakaway, one on an odd-man break and another on a point-blank chance. All three couldn’t have been any bigger at those points in the game. Having a strong night out of Olson, who was named Team USA’s player of the game, makes a big difference going forward. It was a big confidence booster for both goaltender and team.
Other Top Performers
Team USA’s Defense – The U.S. was so strong on defense that it’s hard to single any one player out. There were very few mistakes in the 4-0 win out of the rearguards and that made a big difference. Jacob Trouba had several huge hits and his vast skill set was on display all game long. Seth Jones was as sure-handed as you’ll find in the D zone, coolly handling forecheckers and steering the puck away from traffic. Brady Skjei played a very simple, effective game, using his feet to support the transition and had a strong night on the blue line as a result. Patrick Sieloff was a strong, steady presence in the defensive end, and took the body without going too far. Matt Grzelcyk was strong in the puck-moving game and made several key defensive stops with a good active stick. Connor Carrick had the goal and was a threat with his speed each time out. Will Butcher, the youngest of the D corps, showed a lot of confidence with the puck and didn’t look a bit out of place despite limited action with the U18 squad this year.
Matthew Lane – Lane had two points with a goal and assist. Additionally, Lane was a threat in all areas of the ice due to his good foot speed and aggressive play. Lane’s goal was a beauty and it kept the momentum moving in the right direction for Team USA. That second goal really took the wind out of Finland’s sails.
J.T. Compher – The young forward showed off great speed and physicality in Team USA’s first game. He has a way of getting under opponents’ skin with his aggressive nature and strong forechecking. Centering a line with Lane and Frankie Vatrano, Compher was good on draws and really strong in the transition game. His speed and strength are going to be a big help to the U.S. going forward.
Frankie Vatrano – With two assists, Vatrano tied with Lane for the team lead in points. The Vatrano-Compher-Lane line was one of Team USA’s most consistent offensive threats, but also played with loads of energy throughout the game. Vatrano was strong on the puck and made smart decisions, two of which led to goals.
Nic Kerdiles – Kerdiles getting the first goal was somewhat apropos. He was part of the team last year that won gold, playing a more defensive role. This year, he’s the featured centerman and needs to produce for this team to have success. Getting one in, in the first game was big for Team USA’s top forward. His line with Ryan Hartman and Danny O’Regan was an offensive threat all night.
The U.S. will meet the Czech Republic in Breclav on Saturday at 1 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT). The game will be streamed live on FASTHockey.com.
It should be a spirited contest, as the Czech Republic will give a good fight on home ice. The Czechs are also coming off of an 8-4 win over Denmark and will have a bit of momentum. This will be a good test for the U.S., which had the day off today. With the opening-night win, the U.S. will hope to stay hot against a Czech team that’s going to throw everything they’ve got at Team USA.