Greetings from Crimmitschau, Germany! After a long few days of travel, I’m on the ground here and was able to take in the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team’s pre-tournament contest with Finland in Dresden last night.
The U.S. has completed its pre-tournament schedule, falling to Canada on Saturday, 2-1, and beating Finland Monday night, 4-2.
Coming up after the jump, a USA-Finland recap, why pre-tournament exhibitions are important, scouting Crimmitschau and new details about tournament coverage on USofH.
Despite the stumble against Canada, Team USA got itself back on track against a solid Team Finland. Rocco Grimaldi had a pair of dazzling goals, while Ryan Haggerty and Cole Bardreau (empty-netter) also scored.
It was a good bounce-back effort for a team that wanted to go into the tournament on a positive note.
John Gibson and Matt McNeely split time in the net. Gibson was perfect in 29 minutes of action. While only seeing about seven shots, Gibson had to make a few key saves and looked as if he kept improving as the game went on. McNeely gave up a pair, but was a victim of a few bad bounces. He made several big saves late as Finland was really beginning to press.
As will often be the case, Team USA got most of its offense from the line of Grimaldi, J.T. Miller and Reid Boucher. Both of Grimaldi’s goals brought audible gasps from the light crowd on hand in Dresden. The goals showed Grimaldi’s creative flair and deadly release as the goaltender had no chance on either shot. I think the puck was already in the net before the goalie even knew there was a shot. Just sick stuff.
Haggerty scored a goal off of a rebound, standing in front of the Finnish net. Goals like Haggerty’s are the kind the U.S. will need to get throughout the tournament. Those dirty goals will come in handy as will goals from lines other than Team USA’s top scoring unit.
This is a gritty, hard-working team. Goals aren’t always going to be easy to come by, so getting the other three lines going will be a big help for Team USA.
The defense overall looked pretty solid. There weren’t too many instances where they were scrambling, even though the Finns had a decently skilled and speedy team. All seven defenseman saw plenty of ice, which should prepare them well for the tournament. The depth on the blue line is going to be a big factor if Team USA is going to have success at this tournament.
Pre-tournament exhibitions, especially going into a World Championship event, are extremely important. The players are able to get a feel for the Olympic-sized ice and get a good look at some quality opponents. Canada and Finland are in Group B, so the soonest Team USA would see either in tournament play is in the playoff rounds. Competing against a pair of quality opponents before the real deal helps get the players locked in and provides a bit of a measuring stick for where the team needs to be.
The exhibitions are also good in that they can provide a little adversity without effecting the tournament standings. Team USA’s loss to Canada may have been a bit of a wake-up call that the World U18 Championship is different from any other tournament this team has played in yet. Despite rolling through the Five Nations, Team USA is going to have a much tougher time in the big event. That’s a good lesson to learn before the U.S. begins tournament play against Switzerland on April 14.
It was also good that Team USA saw some tough opponents early. By no means is Group A, which includes the U.S., Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany, going to be easy to win, but its not going to be as tough as Group B, which features Canada, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Norway.
So after going 1-1 in pre-tournament play, the U.S. still has some prep work to do, but it has a better idea of what it needs to work on. Expect a very motivated and focused hockey team when tournament play begins Thursday.
Crimmitschau has one of the most interesting rinks I’ve ever seen. The stadium is actually in the middle of a city park, surrounded by trees. It’s an older building, but it has loads of character.
One end of the rink is open air. The roof goes over the ice sheet, but one endzone is completely open to the outside giving a nice view of the trees. With an open endzone, there are a few concerns about the quality of the ice, but everyone’s going to have to play on the same sheet.
Additionally, there are very few seats in the stadium. It has concrete “bleachers” where the spectators stand. It makes sense they are that way because the home crowd doesn’t usually want to sit when the town’s second-level pro German team, the Crimmitschau Ice Pirates, plays. The players and staff took in a local pro game on Sunday night and it was apparently an experience. The chanting and drums were in full force as the passionate fan base cheered on its local club.
In fact, one of the main reasons Crimmitschau is serving as the main site for the tournament is because of the popularity of the local hockey team. The hope is that the Crimmitschau site will bring in better crowds than Dresden’s newer facility.
I hope to post some pictures soon to show you what I’m talking about. It’s a pretty neat place.
Tournament Coverage Update
It looks like I will be able to update the blog pretty regularly based on the internet capabilities here. My hope is to have game previews and recaps for every Team USA contest.
Additionally, you can catch regular updates on Twitter. I’ll try and tweet my brief between-periods thoughts during each game as well. If you’re tweeting about the tournament or want to follow it more closely on Twitter, the official hashtag from USA Hockey is #U18WMC.
Lastly, make sure you sign up for a FASTHockey account prior to the tournament. Every U.S. game will be streamed live. Signing up for an account is free. Once logged in, you can see the full webcast schedule and purchase game credits to get your international hockey fix. I’m really looking forward to bringing you all the action live from Germany.
That’s it for now, but be sure to check back often for updates from Germany. Also, I’ve got some thoughts on NHL Central Scouting Services’ final draft rankings. I hope to get that post out later today.
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