2014 IIHF World Junior Championship: USA vs. Slovakia Preview

USAvsSVKWith the first game jitters out of the way, things intensify for the U.S. National Junior Team in its second tilt at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. Team USA will meet Slovakia at 7:30 a.m. ET in Day 3 action at the WJC. The game will air live on NHL Network and will be streamed live on NHL.com for free in the United States.

In the second contest, the U.S. will face a strong Slovakian side that has some really solid skill players up front, decent team speed which could provide a greater challenge than the Czech Republic offered. The Slovakians are riding high after a 9-2 drubbing of Germany Thursday and will have their eyes on an upset of the defending gold medalist.

The U.S. has plenty of confidence of its own after playing a strong game against the Czech Republic and earning a 5-1 win in the tournament opener. The pace the U.S. played with in that first game is what they’ll want to carry throughout. Bringing that same effort and intensity to the second game will be just as important, if not moreso.

Coming up after the jump, the latest on Team USA, thoughts on Slovakia, a projected U.S. lineup, three keys to the game and pre-game links.

Team USA Update

The U.S. had a day off and took things easy with practice and team photos taken Friday.

“We have two games coming up so we didn’t want to have a physical practice and it’s a long tournament,” head coach Don Lucia told USAHockey.com. “We just wanted to work on some of the concepts we want this team to play with.”

It’s always good to hone those skills and just sharpen things, especially after seeing how everything works in a live game. There was plenty to build off of from the 5-1 win and a few areas to clean up.

One somewhat interesting note, Team USA took its team picture wearing the throwbacks of the 1960 Olympic jerseys. It was not previously announced that the team would wear the uniforms (which in my opinion are the best in USA Hockey history) in the tournament. Here’s goalies Thatcher Demko, Jon Gillies and Anthony Stolarz modeling the threads as well as their super patriotic and awesome goalie pads (Photo by Ellen DeLuca).

I’m not sure what game they’ll be wearing these, but the U.S. always looks good in the 1960s. The WJC team also wore them at the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo.

Zach Stepan was the only player who did not participate in practice today. He left the game against the Czech Republic in the third period to receive some attention.  Stepan had been rotating in on Team USA’s fourth line which also featured at various points Vince Hinostroza, Tommy Di Pauli and Quentin Shore. I am uncertain of his status for the game.

Other than that, the U.S. should be pretty much at full strength. I’d expect Gillies to get the start again, with a possibility of Stolarz going against the Germans.

Make no mistake, the Slovakians have struggled at the World Juniors recently, but the U.S. has to come in ready to play. If they come at Slovakia with the same effort as they did against the Czechs, the U.S. should be able to pull out a win. That’s particularly true of the defense, who should be tested more in transition by Slovakia’s more skilled forwards.

Finding a way to finish more chances and limiting mistakes are also going to be huge factors.

About Slovakia

In the last meeting between the U.S. and Slovakia, Team USA was facing a trip to the relegation round without a win in the preliminary round last year after back-to-back losses to Canada and Russia. The U.S. responded with a 9-3 rout. The scenario is quite a bit different this year, but Team USA certainly will not want to take the Slovakians lightly.

Slovakia got off to a tremendous start in the tournament with a 9-2 drubbing of Germany. Obviously you take the result with a grain of salt as this German side is going to struggle mightily throughout the tournament. That said, the Slovaks were finishing chances left and right and showed a lot of good skills throughout the game.

The Germans didn’t give much resistance, which allowed the Slovakian forwards a lot of opportunities to make things happen. It’s not an overly deep team, but there’s some high end talent dotting the lineup.

Slovakia’s got some really strong skill up front led by Blue Jackets first-rounder Marko Dano who had three points against Germany and will see the ice a lot against the U.S. Martin Reway, a Canadiens prospect, is also going to be a big factor for Slovakia as a shifty playmaker with good speed. He had four points against the Germans and is tied with teammate David Griger for the tournament lead after two days. Bruins prospect Peter Cehlarik is also a solid player up front for the Slovakians.

Slovakia also has good size on the back end and they’ll be physical when necessary.

In net, the Slovakians may go back to Richard Sabol, who is undersized but very quick. He actually spent some time in the USHL last season with the Green Bay Gamblers and didn’t have much success. He’s back in Slovakia now. If the U.S. gives him a lot of work, he might falter.

Here’s a look at how the highlights from Slovakia’s dismantling of Germany. The Germans really didn’t put up much of a fight on a lot of these goals.

The Slovakians might have more team speed than the Czechs, but they should still struggle with the pace Team USA plays with. The physical strength is also going to create a gap between the two teams as Team USA has a lot of beef up front that will give the Slovakian defense some trouble.

The big thing Slovakia can do that will challenge the U.S., is pounce on mistakes. They have the skill to make you pay for miscues, particularly if the puck ends up on Dano or Reway’s stick.

It should be a very interesting game regardless.

Projected Team USA Lineup vs. Slovakia

17 Kerdiles – 10 O’Regan – 11 Barber
19 Erne – 15 Eichel – 21 Hartman
23 Matteau – 9 Copp – 22 Fasching
14 DiPauli – 25 Shore – 13 Hinostroza
26 Stepan

2 Skjei – 28 Carrick
4 Butcher – 16 Santini
3 McCoshen – 7 Grzelcyk
6 Slavin

32 Gillies
29 Stolarz

Not Dressed: 35 Demko

Three Keys for Team USA vs. Slovakia

Play Clean Hockey — The U.S. is going to want to limit mistakes throughout as the Slovakians are opportunistic with their chances. Turning the puck over or taking bad penalties is going to hurt the U.S. There were a few things Team USA could work on from the last game, so if they’ve worked out some of the kinks, they shouldn’t have many issues. Team USA only took three penalties in the first game, so they’re on the right track. Carrying that disciplined play over will be especially important against Slovakia The focus is getting better with every game and playing without making too many mistakes is going to be a priority at this early stage of the tournament.

Challenge Goalie – Team USA got a lot of good chances in the game against the Czech Republic, but weren’t finishing consistently. There were a lot of missed nets and poor shots that didn’t challenge the goalies enough. Sure, they scored five goals, but they might not have as many opportunities in this game as they did against the Czech Republic. Taking advantage of what you’re given is such a huge key in any international tournament, particularly against stronger opponents. Making Slovakia (or anyone for that matter) pay when they make a mistake or leave a little bit of an opening should translate to higher production and more wins.

More of the Same from D — Team USA’s defense was really good against the Czechs and will need to continue that play. There’s always room for improvement, but the U.S. set a high standard in the opening game. Maintaining that will improve the flow of the game overall and help the forwards. The D was so important in driving Team USA’s transition game, which is an area they need to be good at with their team speed. That’s especially true against a quick team like Slovakia. If the D maintains that level of play from the first game, they’ll dictate the pace of the game and allow the U.S. to take over.

LINKS

- USA Hockey’s official game notes for Slovakia game. In 13 all-time meetings between the U.S. and Slovakia at the WJC, the U.S. has lost just three times.  (USA Hockey PDF)

- College Hockey News’ Nate Wells profiles Don Lucia and his comfort level in leading Team USA into this tournament. (CHN)

- Lukas Aykroyd  details the solid play from Team USA’s defense (IIHF.com)

- NHL Network talked to the U.S. players about putting on the USA jersey and the responses are predictable, but great as always. (NHL.com)

- A suggested Twitter follow for you as it pertains to Team USA… Ellen DeLuca, who is shooting games for Team USA and sharing many of them right on her Twitter feed during and after games. (@EDeLucaPhotos)

- Tournament scoring leaders through two games includes a pair of Slovaks at the top, Martin Reway and David Griger (IIHF)

- Through six games at the World Junior Championship, the average scoring differential between winning and losing teams is 5.5. That’s a big gap, which should shrink as more of the big-time teams play each other instead of Germany and Norway (Twitter)

- Switzerland gave Sweden a scare in the tournament opener for the hosts. Sweden held on to win 5-3, however, with Filip Forsberg providing an early entry to highlight of the tournament with his tremendous shift for Sweden’s first goal. (Buzzing the Net)

As always, you can expect a full recap soon after the game, with many player notes and other thoughts from throughout the game right here on United States of Hockey. I’ll also have running commentary on Twitter throughout the game as it happens.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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