Well, the waiting game is over and it’s just about time to kick off the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. Russia and Slovakia will play at 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT) to open tournament play in Crimmitschau.
Team USA kicks off its title defense at 7:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EDT) against a solid team from Switzerland. Don’t forget, you can catch all the U.S. action live on FASTHockey.com.
It cannot be stated enough that the U.S. will not have an easy game in this tournament. The World Under-18 Championship includes the 10 best hockey nations in the world and everyone has skill and size. It’s quite fun to watch for fans, but it provides an intense few weeks for the players and coaches.
Coming up after the jump, a full preview of Team USA’s contest against Switzerland.
In preparation for the tournament, the U.S. went 1-1 in exhibition play, with a 2-1 loss to Canada and 4-2 win over Finalnd. As I’ve written before on the blog, the U.S. 1993s have done very well in international tournaments, having lost only two games its own age group in the last two years.
While Team USA rolled through the Under-18 Five Nations Cup in February, the U18 Worlds will be no cake walk. Every game will be difficult for the U.S., as it is the two-time defending champ. It’s not hard for any club to get up to play the top dog.
The Swiss are no exception. Expect a physical, grind-it-out kind of contest between Switzerland and Team USA. I was able to watch the Swiss play Norway in an exhibition game earlier this week and if that game was any indication, the Swiss are going to hit. A lot.
Expect Team Switzerland to finish every check and play real tough in the corners. However, the U.S. team should provide much of the same. The bottom six or seven forwards for Team USA can really grind with the best of them. If there are going to be a lot of wall battles, I’d give the advantage to the Americans.
Team USA has a lot of strong, physical guys too, but it will have to jump on Switzerland early to avoid allowing their opponents any momentum. That’s why I think it was so good for the U.S. to have played a pair of difficult exhibition contests. With tough opponents like Finland and Canada in games that didn’t necessarily count, the U.S. should be well adjusted to a physical game.
As is always the case in international hockey, special teams will be important in this game. The U.S. will want to avoid penalty trouble against a Swiss team that can move the puck around a little bit with the man advantage.
There are a few D-men in the Swiss lineup that can really let the puck go, so Team USA’s forwards will have to get on them quick.
One big advantage the U.S. will have is it’s team speed. Players like Rocco Grimaldi, J.T. Miller and Nic Kerdiles should be able to use their good wheels to motor around the defense and drive the net hard.
Additionally, the U.S. defensemen with good feet are going to have to close the gap quickly on some of Switzerland’s more skilled forwards. There are a few offensive weapons on the Swiss club, so getting in their face in the neutral zone or just at the blue line will go a long way.
The U.S. also has a strength in goal as John Gibson will always be an X-factor in any game he plays. When he’s in top form, he can weather just about any storm. With the high skill of at least a few players on every team in this tournament, the goaltending will have to be solid for Team USA as it looks to win its first gold medal without Jack Campbell in the last three years.
It’s the first game of the biggest tournament of these players’ lives. For all but four Team USA players, this tournament has been two years in the making. Getting off to a good start would bring confidence to the U.S. squad early, which is important in short tournaments. Getting that momentum early can go a long way.
All of the preparation is done. Now it’s time for the players to play. The title defense starts tonight.
Team USA’s Keys to Victory vs. Switzerland:
– Use superior skill and speed to put pressure on defense
– Pepper the goaltender with shots, look for rebounds
– Avoid penalties in what is sure to be a physical contest
If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up for your FASTHockey.com account today well before Team USA’s game at 1:30 EDT. Get your game credits purchased so you don’t miss a second of the action. I am really looking forward to my first broadcast today. I hope you’ll join me.
USAHockey.com has the team media guide available for download here. Additionally, the USAH website will be your one-stop shop for game notes, recaps and game photos.
Also, for some updates, video interviews and photos from Team USA’s trip, check out the NTDP’s Facebook page. NTDP PR guy, Jake Wesolek, is doing a fantastic job of putting up new content just about every day.
IIHF.com has every team roster available today. Live stats will also be available on the same page as the team rosters.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter for some of my personal updates, but also check out @USAHockeyScores and the #U18WMC hash tag to follow game action and U18 team news.
I hope to have a USA-Switzerland recap of my own up later tonight and you can expect a USA-Slovakia preview early Friday morning.