The U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team will meet Germany tonight in its final preliminary-round game at the IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship. Team USA can breathe a little easier tonight, as it is already guaranteed the top spot in Group A and has locked up a bye to the semifinals.
The bye came thanks to a 4-0 loss by Germany at the hands of already relegation-round bound Slovakia. This is the first bye for Team USA since the 2006 World U18s, when it won its second consecutive gold medal with a team that included Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson and Blake Geoffrion, among others.
Coming up after the jump, today’s playoff implications in Group A and a preview of USA-Germany.
While the U.S. has the bye, it is important to keep the momentum moving against a very motivated Team Germany. Before we get into the game preview, let’s go over the playoff implications in Group A play today.
The U.S. is the only team that knows of its final standing. Top spot in Group A, bye to the semis. Done.
Now it gets tricky.
Switzerland is in a must-win situation against Russia today. Should Switzerland beat Team Russia, it would move into second place in the bracket, assuming Germany loses to the U.S.
Should Switzerland lose to Russia, Team Russia would finish second in the pool, the Swiss would move to the relegation round and win or lose, Germany makes the playoff round.
A Russian loss, coupled with a German win over Team USA would mean Russia moves to the relegation round, with both Switzerland and Germany in the playoff round. Unlikely, but possible.
So there is still a lot left to be determined. I hope you’re keeping up. It’s hard enough for me to understand.
Moving over to Group B, there are two monumental games today.
There are so many different possibilities on that side of the bracket, we won’t even get into them at this point. The only thing we know for sure is that Norway will play in the relegation round. Expect a full update on Wednesday once all of that shakes out.
The Czech Republic plays Finland, while Sweden plays Canada today.
Getting back to our preview of USA-Germany…
Team USA has won all three games and knows that they are through to the next round. If Switzerland finds a way to beat Russia, the pressure on Germany to win vastly increases. However, a Swiss loss means Germany is through to the next round.
So whatever happens in the afternoon game could have a big effect on the way Germany plays the U.S.
Regardless, the U.S. has to continue to get better and build confidence as it will have three full days off before the semifinal. Staying locked in is important.
Despite the fact that it won’t have a meaningful game until April 23, Team USA has an opportunity to keep the compete level high against a German team that has had some success in this tournament.
We may not see the raucous crowd that willed Germany to earning a point with a shootout loss against Russia, but it should still be a spirited atmosphere for the U.S. to play in.
A loud crowd and a likely fired up German team should provide a good challenge for Team USA.
Very few teams have been able to run the table through the group stage in this tournament over the last few years, so having the chance to be 4-0-0-0 heading into the medal round is some good motivation for the U.S. to bring it tonight.
A let down in the final prelim game wouldn’t be a good way to head into the semifinals, where the U.S. should see a very challenging opponent.
A look at Team Germany:
The Germans beat Switzerland, 4-1, lost to Russia in a shootout, 5-4, and fell to Slovakia, 4-0. When they are on their game, they can be a threat.
Germany’s top player in its first game and part of the second was Tobias Rieder. However, he left the Russia game with injury and did not play Monday against Slovakia. If he’s out, it’s a big blow to Team Germany’s offense.
Perhaps the biggest factor in each of its first two games was the outstanding play from 1994-born goaltender Marvin Cupper. He has made several huge saves for Team Germany throughout the tournament, though is coming off of his worst game yet. Cupper is not a very big kid in the net, so the U.S. should be able to give him some trouble. Just don’t make the mistake of underestimating Cupper’s ability to steal a game.
The Germans have some really good size on their team, but overall team speed isn’t at a level as some of the other teams in the tournament.
The U.S. should be able to out-skate the Germans, but it’s awfully hard to outwork them. The U.S. has to maintain a high energy level tonight, as the home side should get some extra jump thanks to the local fans that have been outstanding throughout.
Keys to Victory for Team USA:
– Despite the lack of stakes, keep the compete level high
– Don’t underestimate the opponent, or it’s goaltender
– Use team speed and skill to overwhelm Germany’s defense
Game time is 1:30 p.m. EDT, live on FASTHockey.com. I should be on the air beginning at 1:20 to set the stage for the game. I’m guessing we’ll have a great atmosphere and at the very least, a competitive hockey game. You might want to check it out, as our next play-by-play broadcast won’t be until Saturday.
Coming up tomorrow on USofH, we’ll have a full rundown of the playoff round match ups and some other tournament updates.