Team USA Falls to Ontario in U17 Challenge Final

It’s been a tough 24 hours for USA Hockey. First the U.S. National Junior Team fell to Canada in the World Junior semis. Earlier tonight, the U.S. National Under-17 Team was unable to defend its title at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, falling to Canada-Ontario, 5-3. A far cry from last year’s thrilling 24 hours of the U17 beating Ontario on home ice and having the U20s do the same to Canada the next night.

As for tonight, it’s a tough pill to swallow for the Americans, especially because this Under-17 Team has looked so good throughout this season. Prior to tonight’s contest, Team USA was undefeated against their own age group. Through two international tournaments, Team USA had not lost a game and most of those wins have not even been close. The record against international foes now sits at 10-1. Unfortunately for the Americans, it was the wrong night to lose that first game.

Canada-Ontario was very good tonight. They finished every single check. I mean every single check. They have speed and they have skill. Very stereotypical Canadian team. Certainly the best squad the U.S. has faced this year.

Unlike their U20 counterparts, this U.S. National Under-17 Team was not, in fact, thoroughly outplayed. Despite the 5-3 score, I thought the U.S. actually controlled the pace for about 30 minutes of the game. However, that’s not a complete hockey game. That’s not going to be enough against a very talented team.

The U.S. got off to a slow start, going down 1-0 early after a goal from Kerby Rychel (son of Warren). Team USA got a goal back on a long shot from Nikolas Olsson, but just 28 seconds later, Sean Monahan answered for Ontario. After Brendan Gaunce made it 3-1 on just Canada’s sixth shot of the contest, Danton Cole, head coach of Team USA, pulled  netminder Collin Olson after 12:38 in net. It looked as though Ontario was beginning to run away with it.

Jared Rutledge came in and settled things down in net with a few key saves, but the U.S. went into the first intermission down 3-1, and probably a bit stunned.

In the second period, we saw some of the things that this U17 team is capable of, particularly throughout the last 10 minutes. Miles Koules (son of former Tampa Bay owner, Oren), wristed a long shot into the top-left corner from way out to make it 3-2 at the 10:54 mark of the middle frame. The Americans had jump the rest of the way. We got to see their speed and even some of their physicality. They got back to what worked.

The one thing that impressed me so much about Ontario is how well they weathered that storm. It could have been a disaster had the defensemen not remained settled in their own zone. Team USA generated chances, but never seemed to establish a great net-front presence. The fact that Ontario was able to keep its lead heading into the second intermission may have been the difference.

The third period started out with a bang for the U.S. in the third period when Seth Jones Patrick Sieloff crossed the Ontario blue line and unleashed a slap shot for a shorthanded goal. The U.S. then continued to apply pressure on netminder Daniel Altshuller, who had trouble on each of Team USA’s three goals. Still, his defense was there to bail him out a few times.

The tide turned in a big way when the U.S. over-committed on a forecheck, in which three American players, including one defensemen were caught behind Ontario’s net. After a turnover down low, Sean Monahan took the puck through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1, sold the pass, but wired a shot into the top-left corner for the 4-3 lead. After that, it looked like the Americans were never going to catch up.

The game was put further in doubt when Ontario was awarded a penalty shot (interesting call late in the game, looked to be correct) with 4:02 to go in regulation. Matthew Campagna scored on one of the prettier penalty shot goals you’ll see and that was pretty much it. Team USA got maybe one or two chances in the closing minutes, but Ontario’s stingy defense remained so.

It’s a disappointing finish to an otherwise exciting game, for Team USA. There were a lot of things that looked good. Plenty to work on to be sure.

According to the post-game box score Canada-Ontario managed just 18 shots on net, while USA had 21. I’m kind of surprised that USA had that many shots. Even if they had that many, very few were of good quality. There was far too much from the perimeter. I don’t think that indicates the Americans being soft, as some might say, but it’s more a sign of just how solid Canada-Ontario was defensively. They didn’t allow too many pucks in the middle of the ice. Daniel Altshuller was shaky between the pipes, but he didn’t face a whole heck of a lot. If the U.S. were able to get to him more, it might have been a different story.

Here are some random thoughts from the game:

– Tonight’s game had a World Under-17 Hockey Challenge record 12,060 in attendance for tonight’s game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg. That’s pretty amazing. That many people came out on a weeknight to watch 16-year-olds? Perhpas this is Winnipeg’s way of showing the hockey world that they are as passionate a hockey city as any. Either way, the crowd was into it all game. I loved their energy. There was just one instance I got a little peeved though. Jacob Trouba received a penalty for running the goaltender. He had the puck on his stick, drove hard to the net, couldn’t stop, hit the goalie. Don’t mind the penalty, but any time Trouba, who is 16, touched the puck he was booed mercilessly. I get it, you’re mad. But the kid is 16 years old and I don’t think you can fault him for making a hard play. Come on, Peggers, I thought you liked hard-nosed hockey?

– The province of Ontario is churning out elite players at an alarming rate. They had a lot of firepower on this squad and have now won the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in three of the last four years. It was the third time they met Team USA in the final during that span and now have an improved record of 2-1 against their American foes with gold on the line.

– Goaltending was an issue tonight for the U.S. Five goals on 18 shots just won’t cut it at this level. I feel bad for saying it, because again… they are 16! Here’s what I will say. Jared Rutledge and Collin Olson have a tremendous amount of upside. This is the type of game they can learn from. I’m sure when they get back to Ann Arbor, goaltending coach Joe Exter will have plenty to talk to them about. They’ve both been very solid throughout the season and they just had a bad night. Unfortunately for them, it was the wrong night to have one. They’ll learn.

– If you don’t believe Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba are legit prospects… get your eyes checked. Trouba is 2012 draft-eligible, while Jones will be available for the 2013 draft. I don’t think there’s any doubt these two are top-10 material, maybe even top-five. I’d expect both to be called up to the U.S. National Under-18 Team by February and I’d bet we see them play at the World Under-18 Championship in Germany this April. These two guys are playing at a high level and I can’t wait to see how far they end up going. Yowza.

– One guy that I’ve shortchanged a bit here is Ryan Hartman. This young forward out of the Chicago suburbs has a chance to be a playerI think. There are pieces of his game that needs some work, but he can be a threat out there. He has been a scorer since his days with the Chicago Mission and I think he can develop into one at the higher levels. He made a few plays tonight that made me kind of do a double take. I think he needs some fine-tuning in the D-zone, but his offensive ability is there. Should be fun to watch over the years.

– Despite the loss tonight, I think this group of 1994-born players has a chance to be one of the best groups the NTDP has produced. From all accounts, they are mature and professional… for 16-year-olds. They have skill and upside and from what I’m told, an incredible work ethic. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot about this group in the next two years.

Check back tomorrow for more World Junior Championship coverage. I will have a full preview and links to get you ready for the USA-Sweden game and thoughts on the importance of winning bronze.

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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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