The U.S. Under-18 Select Team made it to the championship game at the Ivan Hlinka for the first time since 2010, but fell just short in the final to Canada, 4-0. Coming off a year in which the team finished a disappointing seventh place, second-place stings, but doesn’t really seem so bad.
According to TSN’s Craig Button, the U.S. mustered zero quality scoring chances in the game, which obviously makes it tough to win. Canada rolled to its sixth consecutive tournament title, which really isn’t that surprising as Canada puts a lot into this tournament. They’re one of the few countries that sends its optimal lineup and it shows pretty much every year.
The U.S. lineup for this year’s Hlinka was one of the best in the last several years, however, with many players looking like good bets to be selected in one of the next two NHL Drafts. That said, the Hlinka has always been an opportunity to allow the depth of the country’s age-eligible class meaningful international experience, which means many of the top players in the age group aren’t on the squad.
Team USA has claimed the tournament title only once at the Hlinka, in 2003, and has finished second eight times.
The U.S. obviously enters every tournament with the goal to win it, regardless of the lineup, so falling short in that regard is not going to sit well. That said, Team USA went toe-to-toe with the very best lineup Canada could ice and for at least 50 minutes hung in tight despite not being able to generate much offense.
The last group that made it to this stage of the tournament for Team USA was the 1993 birth years in 2010. Several players from that group were major players on Team USA’s World Junior Championship gold medalist team last year. When the depth guys are able to make it to the Hlinka final, that type of experience is really invaluable for future international careers. There’s plenty that can be learned from this tournament for the 1996-born guys.
There were several bright spots in the tournament for Team USA, which finished tournament play with a 3-0-1-1 record.
Nick Schmaltz led the team in scoring and made a big early statement for the 2014 NHL Draft. He’s most likely the best pro prospect playing in the USHL (with the Green Bay Gamblers) this year and with this performance at the Hlinka, he’ll probably draw more eyeballs.
Schmaltz had five goals and three assists, which led the U.S. by a lot. His five tallies came in three out of the last four games, including this goal after an incredible shift against Russia.
Russia had a pretty rough time clearing the zone there, but sheesh, what a shift.
Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, of the Plymouth Whalers, played in four of the five games for Team USA and was solid throughout by most accounts. Coming into the championship game, he had a 2.65 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He was also named player of the game against Russia.
Portland Winterhawks Paul Bittner also was a bright spot for Team USA. He had this rocket one-timer against Finland.
Here’s how the results broke down for Team USA…
USA 3 – Finland 4 (OT)
USA 4 – Russia 2
USA 5 – Slovakia 2
USA 5 – Czech Rep. 3 (semi)
USA 0 – Canada 4 (Championship Game)
There’s a lot to be taken away from the tournament. Team USA battled throughout and that’s a positive. With this international experience, many of these players have seen what it takes to be successful on the big ice and in pressure situations. That’s the true value of the Ivan Hlinka. The developmental results of Team USA’s performance this week will be felt for years to come.