It’s that point of the camp where many of the players should be hitting their stride and settling in as they get their legs under them. If Thursday was any indication, at least 22 of the 34 left at the National Junior Evaluation Camp hit their stride all at once. The U.S. squad assembled for Thursday’s game against Sweden couldn’t have looked better, as they steamrolled the Tre Kronor by a score of 10-2.
Sure, it’s only August, but it was a shocking result. The inconsistencies of the offense seen in prior games washed away as the U.S. put together a six-goal second period where it seemed like they could do no wrong. Meanwhile, Sweden, which had scored 13 goals in its previous two contests couldn’t seem to fight through the American defense or goaltender John Gibson.
This Swedish roster included four first-round picks and several returnees from the team that won gold at the 2013 World Juniors, so it’s not like this was a pushover team. Additionally, in Sweden’s first game in Lake Placid, they steamrolled USA White 5-1. So to see a 10-2 scoreline is indeed a surprise.
Team USA was 4-for-5 on the power play, which, considering the fact that these guys haven’t played together all that much is pretty interesting. So often it’s the special teams that can’t find their way in these settings. Both the power play and penalty kill clearly did today.
Coming up after the jump, a summary of the goals, a look at the U.S. lineup and copious notes on the top performers from Thursday’s contest.
This was the official lineup for Team USA:
Mario Lucia – Sean Kuraly – Stefan Noesen
John Gaudreau – Vince Trocheck – Nic Kerdiles
Reid Boucher – Alex Galchenyuk – J.T. Miller
Blake Pietila – Travis Boyd – Colin Blackwell
Mike Reilly – Seth Jones John Gibson
Matt Grzelcyk – Jacob Trouba Garret Sparks
Garrett Haar – Shayne Gostisbehere
Patrick Sieloff – Brady Skjei
Nine different players scored goals. Here’s how they all happened:
Shayne Gostisbehere got the scoring kicked off on the power play. After taking a D-to-D pass from Jacob Trouba, Gostisbehere took a stride, held the puck as a lane opened and wired a perfect wrister into the top right corner.
After Mika Zibanejad evened the score with a 5-on-3 power-play goal, Johnny Gaudreau regained the lead for Team USA. The goal came thanks to a brilliant end-to-end rush by Mike Reilly, who used his speed to cut through center ice, beat one defender and slipped a backhand pass to Gaudreau who quickly through a shot to the net beating netminder Nicklas Lundstrom.
The U.S. struck quickly in the second as Vincent Trocheck grabbed the puck on the half wall, slipped past one defender while cutting to the goal. He just threw the puck on net, getting a fortuitous bounce off Lundmark and in. Still, the skill Trocheck used to get that shot off was rather impressive.
One of the prettiest plays of the game came when Alex Galchenyuk showed off some of his world-class skill. Getting a nice feed from Gostisbehere at the offensive blueline, Galchenyuk swept to the left side, cutting down into the left faceoff circle. Galchenyuk then slipped past a reeling defender, cutting to the middle, put the puck to his backhand and shoveled it toward the net. The puck caught a deflection and went in. It wasn’t a pretty finish, but it sure looked good getting there.
Gostisbehere got his second of the game on the power play after a nice feed from Blake Pietila. Though the pass was deflected, it had enough zip on it to get through to Gostisbehere inside the right faceoff circle. The defenseman snapped it short side, narrowly beating Lundstrom.
Things continued to get out of hand as Matt Grzelcyk went on an end to end rush, splitting the defensemen with his terrific speed, but was just unable to get a good shot away. Lundstrom made the initial stop, but Nic Kerdiles was there to tuck it home from point-blank range.
The bleeding continued thanks to Tyler Biggs. Catching Sweden in transition, John Gaudreau carried the puck across the offensive blue line, stopped near the top of the right faceoff circle, drawing a defender to him, and sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass to the hard-charging Tyler Biggs. From in tight, Biggs was able to take the puck to his backhand and beat Lundstrom clean on a pretty move.
J.T. Miller was the recipient of a pretty creative little feather pass from Galchenyuk, tipping the puck past a bewildered Lundstrom. Galchenyuk found some space, wheeled to the right point and threw the puck towards Miller’s stick. The all-alone-in-front Miller calmly tipped it past the goaltender to make it 8-1.
Sweden made it 8-2 early in the third, but Jacob Trouba scored yet another power play goal for Team USA as he took a nice little back-handed feed from Blake Pietila and fired a wrister to the top-right corner from the right point.
Sean Kuraly put the exclamation point on the victory after winning a race to a loose puck with some lightning speed. Kuraly took the puck into the Swedish zone, cut away from a trailing defenseman, who went sliding by, and then the U.S. forward used his quick release to rip a shot into the top-right corner.
John Gibson, who played the entire 60 minutes of the game, made 35 saves, none better than his robbery of William Karlsson in the second period. On a 2-on-1 rush, Karlsson one-timed a pass, but it was snatched out of the air by a sprawling Gibson.
A look at the notable performances from today’s contest:
Alex Galchenyuk — Maybe it was finally getting his legs under him. Maybe it was reuniting with Sarnia teammate Reid Boucher on a line. Maybe the compete level was a little higher. Whatever it was, Galchenyuk had his best game of the camp with a goal and assist in today’s contest. Judging by the goal celebration, Galchenyuk was a little relieved to get off the schneid. Not only was Galchenyuk looking better in terms of his ability to create (both his goal and assist showed some of his immense offensive creativity), he was also playing stronger and looked to have more energy. Galchenyuk was engaged physically and complimented both Miller and Boucher well. Even if the Montreal top pick was the worst player in camp (which he wasn’t, obviously), I don’t see how it would have affected his candidacy for this team. I don’t know that he’ll be able to make the Canadiens out of camp, so he should be available. Either way, seeing a performance like he had today has to be a relief to him, Habs fans and the USA Hockey staff.
Shayne Gostisbehere — It was another terrific day for the soon-to-be Union sophomore. With a pair of goals and an assist, Gostisbehere was the best defenseman in a game that included four first-round picks (two for each team) at the position and one who should be in 2013. He wasn’t just good offensively today, he was dynamic. Both goals were pretty and his secondary assist on Galchenyuk’s goal came after a nice rush up ice. He was a catalyst on the power play, not just in scoring, but in quarterbacking it at times. Gostisbehere is showing high-end puck skills, a good shot and high-end skating. I am still impressed each game by Gostisbehere’s work in the D-zone. He has a really strong defensive stick and is able to quickly react to plays as they develop. He has opened eyes with his performance here.
Tyler Biggs — Biggs had a nice little Thursday, signing his first NHL contract with Toronto and having another solid day in camp. Today marked the second consecutive game where Biggs was a big factor offensively, registering a goal and assist. Listed as the 13th forward, Biggs got a lot of time with Vince Trocheck and John Gaudreau. After playing more of a offensive-checking-line role yesterday, Biggs was able to do a little more with Team USA’s second line. The typically bruising forward showed off a combination of his skills on his goal, displaying his powerful skating and a nice little touch on the finish. Wherever Biggs has been plugged in, he’s been doing the little things right, limiting mistakes and showing that he can produce at this advanced level.
John Gibson — The goalies haven’t gotten enough love in this space and quite honestly, Gibson was one of the best players on the ice tonight. He made several big saves, but what never ceases to amaze me about Gibson is how easy he makes everything look. It might not look like he’s working out there, but that’s because he’s so sound positionally and is so good on the rebound control. His big body and sneaky athleticism make him an imposing presence in the net. Thirty-five saves against one of the elite offensive teams in the world, even if it is August, is pretty impressive.
John Gaudreau — For the full game today, Gaudreau looked great. He hadn’t really had a complete game yet, but I think he did today. He worked well with Vince Trocheck at center and was able to create with his great puck skills and vision. Though Mike Reilly gift wrapped the puck for him on his goal, Gaudreau still had a tough angle to get that shot away, and he did it in stride. It was one of the prettier plays of the day.
Mike Reilly — Dynamic. If there was one word I could use to describe Reilly, it’s that. He had a pair of assists today, including the beauty of a no-look feed off the end-to-end rush to put Gaudreau in a position to score. I’ve been following the WJC really closely for the last five years and I can’t really recall a defenseman on a U.S. team that has the offensive skill-set of Reilly. There’s speed, there’s puck skills, there’s the shot. Now Reilly has a few deficiencies in his own zone, but to have a weapon like him on the back end has got to be nice, especially for Phil Housley who was known to freelance a little bit himself.
Sean Kuraly — Kuraly’s camp-best sixth goal was another pretty one. He hasn’t had too many that weren’t pretty. The way he’s playing right now makes him look like a lock. It’s not because of the stats though. The single biggest asset Kuraly has is his speed. USA Hockey teams tend to play an up-tempo game. They always want to be the faster team and often can be. Combine that with Kuraly’s 6-2, 200-pound frame and some really strong puck skills and you’ve got a darn good hockey player. It’s important to keep in mind that dominant performances in August don’t always translate in December, but it appears Kuraly has the right physical tools for this to translate later on.
Blake Pietila — Playing in more of a checking-line, penalty-killing role, Pietila showed some of the ways he might be able to find a spot on Team USA’s fourth line. In addition to his terrific PK skills, Pietila notched a pair of assists, including a really nice feed on Gostisbehere’s second power-play goal. Pietila is a strong forward who plays the body and has also shown some really improved skating. He gets up and down the ice efficiently and always seems to know where he’s supposed to be.
Vince Trocheck – With a goal today, Trocheck showed off some of his advanced puck skills and good speed. He’s also got some underrated defensive capabilities. Trocheck was a big reason his line was effective. Being the key guy on a line that included a combination of Gaudreau, Biggs and Nic Kerdiles, Trocheck’s skills made those transitions seamless. He’s going to push for a spot in a No. 3 or No. 4 center role.
Jacob Trouba — Trouba scored a goal and actually had another waved off (unfortunately, because it was a bullet from the point on a one-timer). The big defenseman is not an offensive defenseman, but he has the skills to find success offensively. His ability to play the physical game and produce at a fairly decent clip is a result of his tremendous skating ability. Trouba should be a big-minutes defenseman come December.
Seth Jones — The two-way skills Jones possesses can sometimes surprise you. Since he’s so big and lanky, it never looks like he’s skating hard, but he gets to loose pucks and even showed some ability to create with his skating. He jumped up into plays a little more regularly and was his usual solid self defensively, getting sticks on pucks, playing the body a little more and being smart. He’s top-pairing material.
Reid Boucher — He wasn’t always effective today, but I think his playing with Galchenyuk had a lot to do with the Habs pick having more success. Boucher showed off improved skating and even got involved physically, delivering one of the biggest hits of the game in the first period. He was buzzing a bit offensively, but didn’t factor on the score sheet. He should see action against Finland on Saturday and will need to be a little more productive. Boucher makes the team if he shows he can score consistently like he did at the U18 Worlds two years ago (8 G in 6 GP).
The U.S. is off Friday, but Finland and Sweden will play against each other at 4 p.m. ET. That game will air live on FASTHockey.com.
Team USA will close out camp against Finland on Saturday at 1 p.m. That also will be available on FASTHockey. It should be interesting to see how they work the combos for that game, as today’s contest was clearly a chance to see some of the top candidates get some reps against top competition.
I’ll have full content the rest of the way during camp, so check on back for that. Until then, here’s head coach Phil Housley sharing his thoughts on the 10-2 win.