Another day, another win for Team USA at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. The U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team trounced Slovakia, 8-1, this afternoon in Crimmitschau, Germany.
Eight different players scored for the U.S., which notched six power-play goals and one shorthanded tally. Goal scorers included (in order): Rocco Grimaldi, Connor Murphy, Robbie Russo, Travis Boyd, Reid Boucher, Adam Reid, Dan Carlson and Ryan Haggerty.
The message to Team USA before the game was to be better than it was on Thursday. Despite earning a 2-1 win over Switzerland, the U.S. didn’t have it’s best night. Though it played a weak Slovakia team, the U.S. looked to be vastly improved from the previous night.
The six power-play goals showed marked improvement on special teams, as the U.S. were unable to score on seven power-play opportunities against Switzerland. Quite a difference.
I think the area that the U.S. appeared to lack the improvement it was looking for was in the penalty department. Team USA found itself shorthand on eight different occasions. While it killed all of the penalties against both Slovakia and the night before against Switzerland, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be that lucky against the likes of Russia come Sunday.
Perhaps the U.S. stayed the same in one area, but it was an area it need not necessarily be better. John Gibson was solid for the second straight day in net. The big goaltender stopped 20 shots in 48-plus minutes of shutout hockey. Matt McNeely spelled Gibson 8:24 into the final frame and stopped four of five shots. While a shutout would have looked nice on the stat line for Gibson, assuming he kept the Slovaks out of the net, getting rest was more important with Russia waiting in the wings.
If you missed the broadcast today on FASTHockey, there were a few big highlights you didn’t get to see.
Travis Boyd’s shorthanded tally was a thing of beauty. He out-raced a defenseman to the puck in the Slovakian zone, out-muscled said defender, put the puck to his backhand, and with one hand on his stick let it glide right into the net. It was a great goal and that was probably the straw that broke the Slovakian camel’s back.
I’ve been debating which was prettier… Boyd’s goal or Dan Carlson’s. Carlson took the puck from the red line into the Slovakian zone, walked the defenseman at the top of the faceoff circle and wired a shot into upper-right corner. It was a great individual effort and display of skill.
Robbie Russo was named Team USA’s player of the game and I think it may have been an easy choice. Through two games, he’s been about as reliable as anyone on this U.S. roster on the back-end. He scored a power-play goal on a one-timer from the center point and just kept things nice and calm throughout the game for Team USA. I love his poise with the puck and ability to keep things settled at all times. His panic level is either extremely low, or non-existent.
Connor Murphy had another solid effort for the U.S. He had a power-play goal on a wrister from the high slot. He might have the best defensive sensibilities on this team. Murphy has made several key plays defensively for the U.S. throughout. It’s not hard to see why Central Scouting thinks of him as a potential first-round talent.
Zac Larraza has been real good in his last two games, both offensively and defensively. He’s had a few scoring chances of his own, but has also prevented some in his own end. He has used his excellent size and reach to his advantage.
In fact, the line of Larraza, Ryan Haggerty and Dan Carlson has been one of the better units for Team USA. They’ve provided some offense, in addition to solid defense. I think that may have been a bit unexpected, but certainly welcome.
Reid Boucher had another brilliant goal today, showing off his absolutely deadly release. Skating down the left wing, Boucher took a pass from Miller and absolutely wired a shot into the top-left corner. It was an unstoppable shot. His natural goal-scoring ability has been evident. Boucher has two goals in the tournament so far.
Ryan Haggerty hasn’t gotten a load of ice time, but he’s made the most of what he’s been given. He’s already got two goals in the tournament, and if you count the exhibition against Finland, is on a three-game goal-scoring streak. Not too shabby.
Seth Jones just keeps looking better. I think the young defenseman has room to grow his game, but he’s playing at such a high level right now. It’s scary to think he can improve further. As he grows and his game grows, he’s going to be a real special player. At this tournament, he can be counted on in almost every situation and he’s seeing the ice a lot. Jones keeps it simple, and plays smart.
The U.S. still can be better, but it showed the improvement Ron Rolston was hoping for. However, they’ll have to be even better come Sunday when the U.S. takes on rival Russia. These two clubs have had some great battles over the years at the U18 level, so it should be an exciting match-up. I will have a complete game preview on Sunday for that game.
Saturday is a much-needed off-day for the U.S. squad. The players will have a chance to rest and recover from two good hockey games.
IN OTHER ACTION:
Sweden got back on track with a 10-2 trouncing of Norway. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Norwegians have a 17-year-old Tore Vikingstad or Mats Zuccarello in the pipeline. The Swedes had to be smarting from the 2-1 loss to the Czechs the night before.
Canada easily handled the Czech Republic, 5-0. The Canadians might be in a position to take first in Group B, but they’ll have a tough game against Finland Saturday night in Dresden. I don’t think you’ll see this Canada team let down as we saw with last year’s club.
Over here in Crimmitschau, I was able to take in the Germany-Switzerland game. To be honest, I thought the Swiss were going to roll in this game, based on what I saw against the U.S. I was flat-out wrong. Germany won 4-1 in front of one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of. Chanting, singing, drums and clapping throughout the game made it just a blast to take in. More than 3,000 people were on hand to watch Tobias Rieder score two goals and goaltender Marvin Cupper stop 44 shots for the tournament hosts. It was a lot of fun to watch and also a great example of how you should expect the unexpected at the World Under-18 Championship.
I hope to have a post up tomorrow with a few brief updates about Team USA. I also sat down with Rocco Grimaldi and Ryan Haggerty after tonight’s game and hope to have some of their thoughts on the tournament so far posted tomorrow morning.
If you have any questions about the tournament or FASTHockey broadcasts, feel free to drop me a line in the comments.