It was another USA-Russia classic at the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship on Sunday night. The U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team controlled play for most of the game, but a win appeared to be in doubt when Russia erased a two-goal deficit in the third period. With just 21 seconds left in regulation, Reid Boucher scored the game-winning goal and helped keep Team USA alone at the top of Group B.
Coming up after the jump, a complete breakdown of USA-Russia.
For whatever reason, it always felt like the U.S. was going to find a way to beat Russia. All of the players appeared locked in and bought in to the game plan and it was executed wonderfully for the most part.
Team USA had to commit to defense against a highly skilled Team Russia, play disciplined and drive the net hard. Russian teams are always going to generate scoring chances, whether you play them right or not, so it was also important for John Gibson to be on his A game and for the defenseman to try to limit those chances to the best of their ability.
In the first period, Team USA found itself up 2-0. Travis Boyd scored on a spinning backhand shot that glided past netminder Andrei Vasilevsky to get the U.S. off on the right foot. Team USA capitalized on a power play later in the period, when J.T. Miller unleashed a hard wrist shot that somehow found a hole on the short side. Gibson made a few key saves early to build some confidence for his teammates.
In the second period, it looked like Russia had made some adjustments. The biggest change was adding Nail Yakupov to its top line of Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Kucherov. That’s a lot of offense right there. With a line that dangerous, you knew there were going to be some tense moments.
Kucherov cut the deficit in half when he knocked in the puck after a net-front scramble. It looked like the Russians were pretty fired up. However, 1:18 later, the U.S. regained the two-goal lead. J.T. Miller won a key offensive-zone faceoff to Reid Boucher, who was able to get the puck on net. Miller drove hard and had to dive at the rebound, but got his stick on it for the tap in. Again, Gibson made a few big saves out there to keep his team ahead.
A two-goal lead is never safe, especially not when you’re playing the Russians. They can score in bunches when they have to and they were all over the U.S. to start the third period. One of the things this Russian team does extremely well is using the end boards on the power play. It’s exactly how Yakupov scored his power-play goal. The puck came off the endboards and right to the waiting Yakupov who slammed it into the net. With the game at 3-2 and the line of Kucherov-Grigorenko-Yakupov rolling, it was looking pretty scary.
Russia tied the game with 4:44 to play in regulation. A big offensive-zone faceoff win by Grigorenko led to Yakupov setting up Albert Yarullin for a one-timer from the point. His shot hit the shaft of Kucherov and went into the upper-right corner of the net. I’m still not sure what the Russians love more… scoring goals or celebrating them. Kucherov’s tournament-leading fifth goal sent that team into a frenzy.
Despite giving up two goals, Gibson was the difference in the third period. He made several key saves to slow the Russian onslaught.
As time began to wind down, the Russians were looking for that winner. However, one of their signature stretch passes was errant, leading to an icing call. So with 23 seconds to play in regulation, Rocco Grimaldi went to the dot. In a key situation, Grimaldi won the faceoff as cleanly as you could want. The puck slid right back to Boucher (set up high on the net side of the left faceoff circle) who violently snapped the puck into the top-right corner. Vasilevsky’s glove had no chance as it was by him in a hurry.
Still, with 21 seconds, don’t count out the Russians. Team USA did a great job of winning the faceoff immediately after the goal and killing the puck in the corner. The Russians had one more chance with five seconds left, but another defensive-zone faceoff win for
Grimaldi Cole Bardreau ended any hopes for Russia.
The U.S. earned three more points and sits atop group A with a 3-0-0-0 record (9 points). There is only one team that can hope to catch Team USA and that is host Germany. The Germans (1-0-1-0) take on Slovakia (which has really struggled in this tournament with an 0-0-0-3 record) tonight in Crimmitschau. A win by Germany means that Tuesday night’s match-up between the tournament hosts and Team USA would be essentially a Group A championship game, with the winner earning a bye to the semifinals.
I’ll be at the game tonight, so I’ll be sure to shoot out a tweet or two with updates.
J.T. Miller, with two goals against Russia, probably had his best game yet. He was named Team USA’s player of the game and for good reason. He played hard. Miller’s goals were both big ones for the U.S. and a result of going to the net hard. He also used his body well out there, crushing big Anton Saveliev when it looked like the Russians were gaining steam. The U.S. needed him to bring it against Russia and he just plain did.
Seth Jones has gotten better with each game he’s played in Germany. The big defenseman isn’t draft eligible until 2013, but I think there would be some teams willing to take him THIS YEAR in the first round. His size and skill level are just amazing. I’ve always marveled at the way Jones thinks the game and how instinctual he is. He’s just a good all around defenseman and was one of Team USA’s best against Russia. Despite his youth, Ron Rolston wasn’t afraid to put Jones out there in any situation.
Connor Murphy’s defensive stick has been incredible in this tournament. With his size and reach, he can get into the passing lanes and just stop the attack cold. He’s not a very physical defenseman, but he makes smart plays and he keeps it real simple. Usually defensemen playing the way Murphy does don’t get noticed. That’s just how good his defense has been. He makes a noticeable difference.
The U.S. is continuing to get a great effort out of Robbie Russo as well. He’s been incredible on the power play and has been steady defensively. Russo hasn’t really forced anything out there. If he doesn’t have a shot, he’ll pass. If he doesn’t have a lane, he’ll create one with his skating. Russo has had a great tournament and will need to continue his play as he’ll be relied on heavily as Team USA moves through the tournament.
Reid Boucher has scored a goal in each game at the tournament. The goal he scored to win the game against Russia was breathtaking. The moment he let the shot go, I think he knew it was going in. His wrist shot is as good as anyone’s I’ve seen in the three years I’ve followed the NTDP closely. Boucher has not only become an offensive weapon, but a guy who can deliver in the clutch. He’s scored some big goals over the last two years, but I don’t know if any was bigger than the one he scored Sunday night.
Cole Bardreau and Zac Larraza might be two of the unsung forwards on this team that have had a huge impact on Team USA’s success. I think the defense those two have brought has been a big factor in each of the three wins.
Bardreau has taken some serious licks and blocked some big shots. Additionally, his speed allows him to create offense as well. Despite his size, he’s played big for Team USA. His line with Blake Pietila and a mix of Henrik Samuelsson and Larraza has come up with some big defensive stops for the U.S.
Larraza seems to have figured out how to use his big body defensively. His reach has allowed him to create several turnovers by either blocking a pass or picking someone’s pocket. Larraza has been particularly good in the neutral zone, breaking up plays and helping the U.S. transition to offense quickly.
Dan Carlson is another guy that has seemingly made a difference even with limited ice. As more of the fourth-line type center, Carlson has made plays defensively and scored one of Team USA’s prettier goals of the tournament. When he’s on the ice, he’s kept his head down and just plays hard. Along with linemates Ryan Haggerty and Adam Reid (and occasionally, Larraza), they’ve generated chances without giving too many up.
The U.S. probably played it’s best game as a team on Sunday. Despite giving up a two-goal lead, the group stayed mentally tough. As I mentioned, it always felt like Team USA was going to find a way to win the game. The focus out of the players prior to the game and during was at a new level.
A lot of teams would have folded up after losing the lead late like that, but there was no such let down from the U.S. U18s.
Big credit to the coaching staff as well. I think whenever you’ve got a Ron Rolston-led team, you know that club is going to be well prepared and well coached. Rolston and his staff of Chadd Cassidy, Joe Exter, Tim Taylor and Matt Curley have done really well with this U.S. team.
As we’ve mentioned before here, this group doesn’t necessarily have the most talent or skill, but they play the game the right way. That’s a big credit to the coaching staff.
IN OTHER ACTION:
Switzerland sent Slovakia to the relegation round with its 3-2 victory on Sunday afternoon. The Swiss have been a bit of a disappointment in the tournament, but would stay alive with a Slovakia victory over Germany tonight. But with little to play for at this point, can Slovakia overcome a German team with great crowd support and a shot at winning the group? Should Germany win, Switzerland will play in the relegation round.
After scoring the upset of the tournament with a win over Sweden on Day 1, the Czech Republic has been struggling a bit. However, the Czechs earned a 3-2 win over Norway Sunday afternoon. A win over Finland on Tuesday gives the Czech Republic a spot in the quarterfinals.
Sweden stayed on track with a convincing 5-2 win over archrival Finland last night. The Swedes are now 2-1, while Finland is 1-2. Should Finland lose to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, it would find itself playing in the relegation round, after taking the bronze medal in each of the last two years. Sweden meanwhile has a big battle with Canada on Tuesday. It’s a must-win for Sweden as it is the only way it will be able to take first place in Group B.
TEAM USA Statistical Leaders:
Points: Robbie Russo/J.T. Miller — 5
Goals: Reid Boucher — 3
Assists: Robbie Russo — 4
Plus/Minus: Seth Jones/Robbie Russo — +3
Shots on Goal: Reid Boucher — 14
PIM: Tyler Biggs — 18
John Gibson Statistics:
Power Play: 7-for-22 (31.8%) — Tournament Rank: 3
Penalty Kill: 16-for-17 (94.1%) — Rank: 1
PIM: 52 — Rank: 3
Goaltending: .947 SV%, 1.67 GAA — Rank: 1