Now Here’s the Fun Part

Well, in case you didn’t know. Team USA will play a team from a country that I am told shares a border with this country. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Perhaps not. It’s called Canada. It sounds fun.

Well, it is fun. Reeeeaally fun. USA-Canada games are as good as it gets in hockey. Most figured it would come with gold on the line, and in a way it does. The winner of the game will play for gold, while the loser is stuck playing for bronze. In my opinion, the stakes are just as high.

Perhaps fear is the greatest motivator of all. Neither of these teams wish to fall outside the top two, and I have a feeling if you asked any of the 44 players or either coaching staff, they’d tell you that anything less than gold is a failure. To finish lower than second, an even greater failure, but one the loser of this game will have to face. Frightening.

No matter what anyone tells you, there is no underdog in this game. These are two evenly matched teams that are going to battle to the death to get to the title game. You’ve got Canada’s group looking to exact revenge and Team USA trying to stay on top of the pile.

Since Canada just won a few hours ago, I’ve got loads to get to. None of which I can cover adequately tonight on the blog. So I’m going to have day-long coverage tomorrow for you. We’ll have previews, links, updates, quotes, notes, facts, keys to victory, and all that stuff.

Since I’ve been away from the blog, let’s talk about Team USA real quick:

The U.S. National Junior Team earned a bye to the semifinals with its 2-1 victory over Switzerland on Friday. Getting the bye was important on many levels.

The biggest reason? There’s time to rest and time to get healthy. Since Game 1 against Finland, the U.S. has not had its full lineup on the ice. There is still no word on whether Jason Zucker or Jeremy Morin will be available for the semi, but the pair did practice today. American fans can only hope that those two will be ready to go. Both have the type of game that fits so well when playing Canada. Neither player is the type to back down or fear going into the corners. So to have them available on the wings would be a nice boost to the lineup.

The other great thing about the game with Switzerland? It was further proof that Jack Campbell is locked in. He made 25 saves in the contest, was challenged much more than he has been and didn’t even flinch. He gave up the early goal to Pestoni, but from then on shut the door. When he’s rolling, he really gets rolling. The definition of a big-game goalie, Campbell provides the U.S. with an absolute rock. The Switzerland game happened to be a game where Campbell needed to be solid, because the U.S. had trouble generating offense. He was equal to the challenge and has me convinced that he’s not done yet.

Another positive thing about the game against the Swiss was that it was difficult. The U.S. knew they didn’t need the bye, but they badly wanted it. They wanted to finish first in Group A and the chance to get an extra day off for a team trying to get healthy was too good to let slip away. Switzerland had the right systems and right goaltender to make life tough for Team USA. Some say losing is a great motivator, the right kind of adversity. I understand that, but playing two incredibly tough games and winning them in the group stage is also a good motivator. Team USA beat a very talented Finland squad in overtime and went head on with a Swiss team that was just beginning to find its stride. One-goal wins are not good for the heart, but they’re good for building team morale in proving that its possible to win those tight battles.

Had the U.S. breezed through the preliminary round, maybe it would have given them added confidence, but I think a tougher road makes for a more hardened team. The U.S. needed to be hardened a bit and they got it from Finland and Switzerland. The U.S. now knows that they are a good team, but they have to come ready to play. No time for being cocky in tight games.

Hey… Guess What? The Coyle-Palmieri-Krieder line scored another goal. I know, weird, right? If you don’t think Charlie Coyle has been one of the best players in this tournament, then reevaluate how you evaluate. He’s been outstanding. The pass he gave to Krieder on USA’s first goal was as good as it gets. Also, give Chris Krieder a ton of credit for sneaking that one in the inside post. Perfect shot. This line continues to get better and I just don’t know if there’s going to be anyone that can stop them on a shift-by-shift basis. I’m sure they’ll have a really rough go against the Canadians, but I still think this line is going to generate chances and give their opponents fits.

Mitch Callahan scored a goal on Friday night. Not surprising to me at all, but he came into this team as the 13th forward and due to injuries he has had to play a regular role. He’s doing it wonderfully. Having him going is important if Morin and Zucker remain out. Even if they are in, though, Callahan has proven he can be used in a variety of roles. Against Team Canada, he’s got that, as Dave Starman says, “sandpaper” to his game. He is not fun to go head-to-head against.

I know, I know. “But Chris, let’s talk about USA-Canada some more.” OK. We can. Tomorrow. I promise.

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World Under-17 Challenge Update:

The U.S. National Under-17 Team won each of its games against Canadian opponents this weekend, downing Atlantic 12-1 on New Year’s Day and Quebec 5-2 earlier this afternoon. The U.S. earn Group A’s top seed and head to the semifinals, taking place tomorrow at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, where they will take on whoever loses tonight’s match-up between Ontario and Pacific.

The U.S. has outscored its opponents 26-6 so far in the World Under-17 Challenge and will undoubtedly meet it’s  toughest challenge yet in either of the Canadian regional squads.

Henrik Samuelsson has had multi-point efforts in each game of the tournament and leads the Challenge with 10 points (6g-4a). Miles Koules continues his stunning international production and is second on Team USA with seven points (3-4). He also had seven (5-2) in four games at the Under-17 Four Nations Cup in November.

Connor Carrick, a defenseman from Orland Park, Ill., is having a bit of a breakout performance himself. He’s got six points (2-4), while Jacob Trouba is tied with Carrick with six points (1-5).

Team USA’s goaltending has also been solid with Jared Rutledge and Collin Olson splitting up the four games down the middle.

We’ll keep one eye on the score for the U.S. U17 Challenge semifinal, but most of the focus will be on the World Juniors through the end of the tournament. Still, I’ll have an update after tomorrow night’s U17 Challenge Semifinal on Tuesday.

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Alright readers, get your sleep, eat your vitamins, BE A REAL AMERICAN. Tomorrow’s going to be a very long, but very fun day.

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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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