The U.S. National Junior Team got off to a rousing start to the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic. Team USA got goals from five different players and avoided that first-game lull that can lead to rough starts for some teams.
There were some of the miscues that you so often see in tournament openers with still-familiarizing teammates, but overall, the speed took over and overwhelmed the Czech Republic. This U.S. team showed that they can play within the system Don Lucia wants and they have the pieces to play what should be an effective style at this level.
The way Team USA’s defense was able to play throughout the game may have been one of the most encouraging signs from a U.S. standpoint. They were aggressive, physical and engaged in the offensive zone. When the defense is going well, it really helps every aspect of play, especially when they’re distributing as well as they were in transition.
The scoring showed up as well. Even though the U.S. scored five goals, they had a few plays they didn’t finish well enough, which is something that will matter in the games against better opponents, but that’s something that can progress as the tournament wears on.
Jon Gillies played well in net, too, despite not seeing a ton of quality chances.
This is the type of game Team USA can build off of. They played well enough to be happy with the performance, but there’s still going to be some work to do. It was about as good a start as the team could have asked for.
USA Scoring Summary and Stats
1. Riley Barber (Matt Grzelcyk, Nic Kerdiles), 1:21 (PP) – Barber broke down the left wing side and flung a puck low from his backhand from below the goal line. It bounced off the goaltender and in for a soft goal to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead. He drew a penalty along the way, too. Here’s a GIF via Japers’ Rink:
2. Will Butcher (Jack Eichel, Ryan Hartman), 2:02 (PP) – Just 41 seconds later, the U.S. struck again with some good puck movement on the power play. Butcher snuck down to the back door and took a perfect pass from Eichel to snap it home for a 2-0 lead.
3. Hudson Fasching (Andrew Copp), 9:23 — Seconds after the U.S. had executed a near flawless penalty kill, Andrew Copp got some space with the puck and skated into the Czech zone. His first shot was stopped, but a hard charging Fasching was there for the juicy rebound. He put it through the goaltender to make it 3-0.
4. Jaccob Slavin (Quentin Shore), 17:03 — After Shore’s shot got deflected high, it bounced to the side of the net, where Slavin had moved to from his spot on the point. He calmly collected it and slammed it inside the right post for a 4-0 score.
5. Vince Hinostroza (Thomas Di Pauli, Connor Carrick), 17:49 — Carrick beautifully broke up a Czech rush by stepping into a passing lane. He calmly dished the puck to Di Pauli who hit Hinostroza in stride. Hinostroza then broke in alone, went to his backhand and roofed it past Dolesj to ice the 5-1 win.
Jon Gillies — 23 saves on 24 shots
Other Stats of note…
- Team USA went 2-for-3 on the power play, with each of the first two goals coming on back-to-back power plays.
- Andrew Copp won 12 of 18 draws, while Jack Eichel won 10 of 15.
- Team USA out-shot the Czech Republic 33-24.
- Andrew Copp led Team USA with six shots on goal. Matt Grzelcyk had four.
Here’s the official game summary from the IIHF (PDF).
Here are the full highlights from the game via IIHF:
General Notes on Team USA
- As I mentioned, the defensive play was a real highlight in this game. The balance of Team USA’s lineup on the blue line was on full display. The distribution in transition was a real key to Team USA taking advantage of the Czechs with their speed. Jumping into the play in the offensive zone was key as well. More than anything, the mobility of this defensive group was obvious throughout. That will be an asset in this tournament.
- The U.S. did well offensively, but I think offensive zone time was not where it should have been against an opponent like a Czech. Generating and keeping sustained pressure in the offensive zone was inconsistent throughout. The U.S. was doing a nice job of generating shots, but weren’t getting a ton of second chances. Connecting on passes in the offensive zone is always hard due to the disciplined team defense most teams will play in the DZ, but you have to find ways through that. The U.S. has an area to work on.
- There were quite a few missed nets from quality scoring areas as well. I didn’t take an official count, but this is something I saw a ton of in the pre-tournament competition as well. Getting in close-range shots is so hard on international ice, so making them count is huge. The U.S. just wasn’t showing the finish you’d like to see from a team that is getting to those good scoring areas as successfully as they did.
- The overall team speed is going to be a huge asset. They have so many solid skaters throughout the lineup and the Czech Republic really didn’t have much of an answer for it. In other games, that may help draw more penalties, create more chances and make things difficult on opposing D. This team, as built, is so strong.
- I’ll touch on these guys more, but Team USA’s listed “third line” of Stefan Matteau and Hudson Fasching flanking Andrew Copp was sensational from the drop of the puck. This is Team USA’s de facto grind line, but it’s one that can generate a lot of offense as well. They started every period for the U.S. and were just too powerful and too fast for the Czechs for much of the game. They set the tone early and maintained it throughout.
- I’m on the road, so I had to watch the NHL.com stream today and I have to say, it is miles better than it was last year. The delay wasn’t as dramatic as last year’s event and the HD quality was terrific. It’s so great to have this tournament available on TV and for free to any and all who have internet. This will only help the WJC grow in popularity in the U.S., so I’m all for it.
Stefan Matteau — Matteau was named Team USA’s Player of the Game, which was an interesting choice to me since he didn’t find the scoresheet in a 5-1 game, but I think that has a lot to do with how well that line with Copp and Fasching played. Matteau played with speed and physicality and was just a handful for the Czechs. He did take one penalty on an ill-advised slash, but mostly he played the way the U.S. needs him to. He just narrowly missed the team last year and after speaking with him at the camp in Minneapolis, he is really relishing this opportunity. He needs to be great for the U.S. and he was in Game 1.
Andrew Copp — The speed and physicality from Copp was evident, as was his prowess at the faceoff dot. He led Team USA with six shots on goal and had some great chances throughout the game. He’ll want to bury those later in the tournament. He did have one gaffe in the game, a turnover on a PK that directly led to the Czechs goal, but the good vastly outweighed the bad. He showed why he wears a letter for this team with his gritty play and leading Team USA’s best forward line.
Hudson Fasching — Fasching got the only goal his line scored and it was a great effort to drive the net and finish a play after Copp’s shot was stopped. Fasching once again showed how good he can be in close to the net with a few plays early. He drew a first-period penalty just by being strong on the puck and keeping his feet moving. His physical game is taking a step forward and his skating has grown tremendously in the last year. Fasching was a force out there for a lot of the contest.
Jack Eichel — Eichel showed that his age is not even close to an issue. Team USA’s youngest player had the puck glued to his stick at times it seemed and played with the patience and skill to generate offense. He forced a few turnovers and generated a lot of chances. His strength on the puck and effort in the offensive zone is going to make him really tough to contain.
Riley Barber — I thought early on, Barber was by far Team USA’s forward. His line kind of went in and out of the game, but Barber mostly looked solid. He showed such good speed and I keep seeing more of a power element that he didn’t have last year. He creates chances with good puck protection and just a solid drive to the net. Barber played the way you want a returnee to play and set the tone early with his fluky goal. He should be a big part of Team USA’s scoring attack.
Matt Grzelcyk — The speed and on-ice awareness Grzelcyk showed in the first game shows why he’s going to be a leader for this defensive group. He has such excellent distribution skills and sees the ice incredibly well. Grzelcyk was engaged throughout the game, forcing turnovers, leading the transition and a few times he rushed the puck with good results. He is going to be an important guy on the blue line throughout.
Brady Skjei — After watching all of the pre-tournament games, I think Skjei had his best effort in a USA jersey today. He showed poise under pressure and used his speed well to close gaps and get himself out of trouble. He didn’t try to do too much, which I think is how he has to play to be successful. That was a terrific start for him.
Steven Santini — I thought Santini was fantastic throughout the game and made his often quiet defensive play noticeable. He had one iffy shift the whole game, I thought. He was physical, delivering the game’s biggest hit among others, and he showed his good defensive stick and positioning. His skating is an underrated asset of his as he closes in on opposing forwards quickly and finds himself in the right place a lot. He could end up seeing his minutes grow in this tournament.
Vince Hinostroza — The first exhibition this team played against Minnesota State, I thought Hinostroza looked out of place (which really surprised me then). Complete 180 today as he was just fantastic throughout the game. He’s Team USA’s smallest forward, but his quickness and creativity were all over today’s game. He was rewarded with the late goal. Hinostroza was so good in tight spaces and he was good on draws as well, giving Team USA’s fourth line a lot more versatility. He showed today that if Team USA’s top six has some struggles, he might be a good option to plug in there.
Jon Gillies — The goaltender didn’t get a lot of work, but he came up big a few times when he needed to. I saw a few uncharacteristic rebounds from him on some shots, but really he was solid throughout. There wasn’t a lot of scrambliness in front of him, which helped a lot, but there were a few occasions where his size was a big factor. He takes up so much net and showed a lot of poise between the pipes. His defense was sensational in front, though.
Nic Kerdiles — Kerdiles took some big hits today (including one which should have been a checking from behind penalty), but he was a threat with Team USA’s first line. He made good plays with the puck and showed how he uses his physical strength to create chances. He made things tough on defenders along the walls and showed no fear in going into the corners. Kerdiles was a target it seemed a lot of the game, but he just kept playing and had some really good shifts throughout.
Jaccob Slavin — He was Team USA’s seventh defenseman for a lot of the game, but Slavin was really effective. He moved the puck extremely well and the thing I like about him is that he makes his decisions very quickly. Slavin identifies his options and usually makes the right call to pass or skate. He had a few nice plays with the puck on his stick, including his goal in the second period to take advantage of a broken play.
Will Butcher — I liked Butcher at both ends of the ice. He scored the second goal, but he broke up a few rushes in his own end. He has good speed and turned it up ice really well throughout the game.
Ryan Hartman — I thought Hartman had an interesting game. He was around the puck a lot, but he seemed to be fighting it a bit. He’s been dealing with a hand injury this year and wasn’t as strong on the puck as he often is. Hartman was in the right place a lot, but whether it was a few bad bounces or he’s not 100 percent, that was something that stuck out to me. Again, I thought positionally and physically, his game was right where it always has been. That’s just something to keep an eye on, because when he’s at the top of his game, he can produce at a high clip.
The U.S. got a great effort throughout the lineup, but to save digital ink and time, we’ll cap it there.
The U.S. will have tomorrow off, but will be back in action Saturday against Slovakia at 7:30 a.m. ET. That game will be live on NHL Network and NHL.com. As always, you can expect a full preview as well as news and notes from throughout the tournament right here on United States of Hockey.