Title Defense Starts Tonight

The very second John Carlson’s wrist shot found its way inside the left post in overtime last year, the U.S. had a target on its back. The defending champs have added pressure by being the host country. No matter what happens, everyone will be bringing their best game against the Americans. The chance to knock off the defending champions and the home team makes pre-game speeches a breeze. How could a team not be fired up for that game?

Tonight, Team USA will have perhaps its toughest test of the preliminary round. Team Finland has some highly skilled players and they can crash and bang with the best of ’em. Finland’s solid goaltending and good team speed will provide the U.S. a big challenge.

We already talked about Finland’s standouts earlier today. The U.S. will have to be physical, but not get caught out of position. Toni Rajala can turn on the jets and make plays. Team USA’s slick skating defense should match up well with that. Teemu Pulkkinen is a guy that can’t be given any space. He is a natural goal scorer that will make you pay if he gets a clear look.

The Finns also may have some added motivation, particularly the returning players, since the U.S. knocked Finland out of last year’s WJC with a 6-2 quarterfinal victory. The veteran leadership certainly will want some measure of revenge.

Most of all, Team USA has to be ready to go from the first drop of the puck. In a short tournament like this one, you can’t take much time to feel each other out. Hopefully more practice and a good effort in its final exhibition gave Team USA enough time to get that chemistry and familiarity going. A slow start could prove costly against Finland.

Team USA’s speed will prove helpful in this game. The U.S. forwards should be able to overwhelm Finland’s defense. While Team Finland has mobile defensemen, they probably haven’t seen wheelers like Chris Kreider, Jerry D’Amigo and Emerson Etem. It’s going to be tough for them to keep up.

The U.S. will want to try and get out to an early lead. Get the crowd into the game and intimidate the Finns physically. The big defensemen like Brian Dumoulin and Patrick Wey need to make sure the Finnish forwards know how difficult it is to penetrate the American defense. Finland isn’t afraid to go into the corners, but the U.S. should make life difficult along the boards.

The American players will have to try and stay loose out there. Playing in front of a home crowd can cause you to push a little too much, maybe try and be too fancy. The energy in the building should be exciting, but the U.S. has to remind itself not to get to high. With Keith Allain behind the bench, I doubt we’ll see the players getting too carried away out there.

I’m very excited to see how this game plays out. The U.S. can’t ease into the tournament, which I like. They have perhaps their toughest opponent right off the bat. We get to see just what they’re made of.

In summary, here are the keys to victory of Team USA:

– Be the most physical team on the ice

– Put pressure on Finland’s D with speed

– Don’t press too hard in front of the home crowd

Oh yeah, and score more than the other team…

If today’s first two games were any indication of how this tournament will play out, I think we’re in for a wild ride in Buffalo. Team USA will want to start things out on a positive note tonight. A win tonight would go a long way toward taking first place in Group A.

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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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